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Park-Cabinet

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

By Chang Jae-soon

SEOUL, March 11 (Yonhap) -- From national security to education, welfare and the economy, President Park Geun-hye issued sweeping instructions to the government Monday as she presided over her first Cabinet meeting two weeks after her inauguration.

The wide-ranging instructions appeared to be aimed at showing the nation that she is taking care of all pressing issues, including heightened tensions with North Korea, even though she doesn't have a fully-filled Cabinet yet due to a parliamentary impasse over her government reorganization proposal.

On North Korea, Park reiterated her commitment to deal strongly with any provocations, though she also said at the same time that Seoul should not give up on efforts to engage with the communist nation.

The Cabinet meeting came a couple of hours after Park appointed 13 new ministers, including the foreign minister, in her first ministerial appointments since taking office on Feb. 25, except for the prime minister.

Up until Monday, Park has been without a new Cabinet as the parliamentary confirmation process for her ministerial nominees has been delayed and her government reorganization proposal has been stuck in parliament due to opposition objections.

"North Korea is escalating (threats of) provocations after the U.N. Security Council adopted a sanctions resolution last week," Park said in an instruction to the foreign ministry, according to her spokesman Yoon Chang-jung.

"If we are going to get North Korea to give up its nuclear programs and make the right choice, what is more important than anything else is to cooperate closely with the international community. I hope the ministry will actively mobilize diplomatic channels and come up with countermeasures," she said.

In an instruction to the unification ministry, Park told the government to ensure the safety of South Korean workers at a joint industrial complex in the North Korean city of Kaesong and residents on the border island of Yeonpyeong that was bombarded in a North Korean artillery attack in 2010, according to the spokesman.

North Korea has sharply escalated war threats in response to annual military exercises that South Korea has been holding jointly with the United States, and especially after the U.N. Security Council adopted a new sanctions resolution last week for its third nuclear test.

The communist nation has threatened that Monday would be the day it stops abiding by the cease-fire agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War and cuts off a hotline set up at the truce village of Panmunjom on the inter-Korean border to prevent accidental clashes between the sides.

The North did sever the hotline on Monday morning.

Pyongyang has also threatened to turn Seoul and Washington into a "sea of fire" and launch a "preemptive nuclear strike" against "aggressors" while warning "a second Korean War is unavoidable."

At the start of the Cabinet meeting, Park expressed frustrations at the parliamentary impasse.

"We are in a crisis situation where North Korea is threatening war day after day, but the posts of defense minister and chief of the national security office are empty," Park said at the start of the meeting while urging the opposition party to approve the reorganization bill.

"Politics is going nowhere in a fight over vested rights," she said.

The 13 newly appointed Cabinet members are the ministers for foreign affairs, education, unification, justice, public administration, culture, industry and trade, health and welfare, environment, labor, gender equality, land and transportation and agriculture.

Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se is Park's long-time foreign policy brain. A former career diplomat of more than 30 years, Yun, 60, served as deputy foreign minister and then senior presidential security in 2006-2008, and has been known as the architect of her campaign platform on related issues.

Yun is also known to be well versed in U.S. affairs.

The 13 ministers have all passed parliamentary confirmation hearings.

During the Cabinet meeting, Park also reiterated her commitment to implementing welfare policies promised during her campaign, stressing the government should intensify efforts to bring the underground economy above ground and uproot tax evasions so as to raise funds for those projects.

She also called for rooting out stock price manipulation and a thorough audit of the controversial project pushed for by her predecessor Lee Myung-bak to refurbish the country's four major rivers.

Other instructions she issue in Monday's meeting included

Park plans to form an 18-member Cabinet. Even after Monday's 13 appointments, however, four more ministers need to be appointed, including the defense minister. Sources said Park plans to appoint the defense minister on Tuesday even if the confirmation process for him is not completed.

She also plans to appoint the finance minister later this week, they said.

Unlike the prime minister appointment, which is subject to parliamentary consent, other government ministers can be appointed regardless of the results of their confirmation hearings, though such forceful appointments could spark a public backlash.

Still, completion of Park's Cabinet formation is expected to take more time because two remaining appointments -- the maritime affairs minister and the science minister -- cannot take place unless their agencies are first established under her government reorganization plan.

The bill has been pending in the National Assembly for weeks due to disagreement over Park's wish to transfer some responsibilities of the watchdog Korea Communications Commission to the new ministry of future creation and science, an agency that she plans to create and use as the main ministry responsible for South Korea's economic growth.

The opposition claims the move could hurt the neutrality of broadcasting firms.

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