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South Korea cabinet shake-up

The naval calsk has damaged Kim's
The naval calsk has damaged Kim's "Sunshine Policy" with the North  

SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- A cabinet reshuffle by South Korean President Kim Dae-jung replaces his prime minister and defense minister -- both of whom had been criticized in the wake of a deadly naval clash with North Korea last month.

Kim replaced eight ministerial-level officials along with his prime minster, ahead of presidential elections set for December.

Jang Sang becomes the first woman to hold the post of prime minister in South Korean history. She currently serves as president of Ewha Women's University.

Jang is the country's first female prime minister and she replaces Lee Han-dong.

The reshuffle includes new defense, information and telecommunications, culture and tourism and justice ministers and comes amid calls in South Korea for a government with less partisan party overtones.

The shake-up also follows the arrests of two of the president's sons on corruption charges.

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South Korea will go to the polls on December 19 to elect a successor to the 77-year-old Kim who is barred by the constitution from standing for a second term.

With the poll five months away, the move is being viewed as a bid to reinforce Kim's administration.

"The reshuffle is designed to reinforce the cabinet for stable management of state affairs," chief presidential secretary Park Jie-won said at a press conference on Thursday.

Former army commander and chairman of the ministry's reform committee Lee Jun has been named as Defense Minister. His predecessor, Kim Dong-shin has come under attack for what the navy has admitted was a tardy response to the North Korean naval attack last month.

Navy attack

In June, a clash between forces from the two Koreas in the Yellow Sea left at least four South Koreans dead or missing, prompting criticism of the military's performance.

North Korea has not admitted how many of its military were killed or injured in the June 29 incident other than to say that there were casualties.

The naval battle -- the worst conflict between North and South in three years -- has seriously damaged Kim's "Sunshine Policy" of rapprochement with Pyongyang, though both sides have agreed to push ahead with talks and to pursue reconciliation.

Seoul and Pyongyang have blamed each other for the clash. South Korea says its patrol boats came under fire from North Korean warships that, together with several fishing vessels had strayed into South waters.

The South Korean ships returned that fire in a 20-minute gunbattle with the North vessels until they returned to the North side of the sea border. One South Korean patrol boat was sunk as a result of the exchange and one Northern vessel was also believed destroyed.

North Korea says that it was South Korea that fired first and have accused Seoul, as well as the United States, for conspiring to stage the attack.

The two Koreas dispute the exact location of the sea border between their countries.

The United States maintains about 37,000 troops as a result of the 1950-53 Korean war that left the Koreas divided.

-- CNN Seoul Bureau Chief Sohn Jie-Ae contributed to this report




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