Kim atones for sins of his son

The entire South Korean cabinet is set to resign in the next few days, after the president, Kim Young Sam, yesterday delivered a dramatic apology on national television and announced the political banishment of his second son.

In a live broadcast from the presidential "Blue House" in Seoul, Mr Kim apologised for an unpopular labour law which provoked nation-wide strikes last month, and for the involvement of some of his closest aides in a scandal over loans to the bankrupt Hanbo Steel Corporation.

"What troubles and embarrasses me all the more is the fact that the name of one of my sons has been mentioned in connection with the impending Hanbo case," the president said. "Like all fathers, it is my belief that the fault of my son is attributable to me as his father ... I will see to it that my son suspends all social activities, behaves himself and stays away from me." The government news agency, Yonhap, reported that 38-year old Kim Hyun Chul, the president's second son, will resign from his official posts and go abroad on his father's instructions.

Government officials in Seoul told journalists last night that Mr Kim's cabinet would soon resign in advance of a reshuffle. "I stand before you with a sense of agony and sadness," the president said. "Even some of those who worked closely with me turned out to be involved in the irregularities and corruption ... With humility, I am willing to accept whatever reproach and criticism you make."

After his election in 1993, as the first democratically elected civilian leader of Korea, Mr Kim enjoyed popularity ratings of more than 80 per cent; even last year his New Korea Party won unexpected success in parliamentary elections. He was praised internationally for personally instigating the prosecution and imprisonment of his two immediate predecessors, the former generals Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae Woo, on charges of corruption and treason.

Today, with exactly one year of his term remaining, opinion polls give him an approval rating as low as 10 per cent. Korea's economy is faltering, its unions are up in arms, and the president is politically crippled, with a very hazardous and uncertain retirement to look forward to. "I will work with all my might, with the idea that I am today inaugurating a one-year term as president," he said.

Union leaders threatened yesterday to resume last month's nation-wide strikes unless the National Assembly repeals a controversial new labour law which limits workers' freedom to form unions. But the labour dispute has been eclipsed by the Hanbo scandal, which has already brought about the resignation and indictment of one cabinet minister.

Hanbo Steel went bust at the end of January, leaving 5,000bn won (pounds 3.7bn) of unsecured debts. A subsequent investigation revealed that leading bankers and MPs took bribes in return for arranging the loans, including one of Mr Kim's longest-standing advisers.

It is a testament to the president's drastic loss of prestige that public anger over the Hanbo scandal has compromised the reputation of his son. Diplomats and analysts in Seoul tend to take at face value Mr Kim's insistence that, during his term of office at least, he has steered clear of the influence-peddling which was so prevalent among his predecessors. But, as numerous corruption scandals have demonstrated, illicit funds are frequently channelled through close aides or relatives.

t Seoul - A North Korean defector to South Korea who was shot by two gunmen 10 days ago died yesterday in a hospital near Seoul, Reuter reports.

The defector Li Il-nam, a relative of Pyongyang leader Kim Jong-il's ex-wife, had been in a critical condition after being shot on 15 February by gunmen suspected to be North Korean agents. He had remained in a coma until he died.