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Beleaguered PM nominee sticks to his guns


SEOUL, June 19 (Yonhap) -- The embattled nominee to be South Korea's new prime minister pledged Thursday to prepare for a possible confirmation hearing in an apparent show of defiance against mounting calls for the withdrawal of his nomination.

Moon Chang-keuk has been under pressure to quit from both the ruling and opposition parties since his nomination last week over his past controversial speech that critics say calls into question his historical views.

Still, he ruled out a withdrawal of his nomination as he arrived at a government building near the presidential office to prepare for a confirmation hearing.

He said his position "remains unchanged" and said he will prepare for the hearing, noting that he has never heard of pressure from the ruling party that he should resign.

The comments are the latest sign of his determination to refuse to withdraw his nomination despite what could be seen as a tacit call from President Park Geun-hye that the nominee should give up his quest.

On Wednesday, Park said she would consider whether to present a motion to parliament seeking confirmation of her latest choice for prime minister after she returns home late Saturday from her ongoing tour of Central Asia.

Moon outraged many South Koreans with a speech at a local church in 2011 in which he described Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula and the subsequent division into capitalistic South and communist North as God's will.

The prime minister nominee tried to quell the controversy, strongly defending his historical views in a meeting with reporters on his way home.

"Those who I respect most from our modern history are martyrs Ahn Jung-geun and Ahn Chang-ho ... I terribly want to emulate those who loved the country," Moon said, referring to the two best known independence fighters under Japanese colonial rule.

"I can stand anything, but if you call me pro-Japan or anti-national, I don't know what to do," the nominee said in a high-pitched tone.

Rep. Kim Han-gil, a co-leader of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, said Thursday his party will scrutinize the nominee if the presidential office and the ruling party insist on holding the hearing.

Park's conservative Saenuri Party commands a majority with 149 seats in the 286-member parliament, though parliamentary blessing is far from certain as the ruling party said it won't force its lawmakers to toe the party line.

A possible collapse of Moon's nomination could deal yet another blow to Park, who already suffered a setback last month when her first choice for prime minister withdrew his nomination.

In South Korea, the prime minister is the only Cabinet post that requires parliamentary confirmation.

Outgoing Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, who offered to quit following a deadly ferry disaster in April, will remain in the job until his replacement is confirmed by the National Assembly.

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