S. Korea's Park faces fresh climbdown over PM nominee

SEOUL - South Korean President Park Geun-Hye was facing a second embarrassing failure in her efforts to appoint a new prime minister, as calls grew Wednesday for her latest nominee to withdraw.

A political novice, former journalist Moon Chang-Keuk was a surprise choice from the start, and his nomination has now become a political battleground because of past comments he made related to the period of Japanese colonial rule.

Park has had problems with a number of her key political appointments, and Moon's withdrawal would be a further blow at a time when her popularity ratings are already at their lowest ebb following the Sewol ferry disaster in April.

Moon wasn't even her first choice. That was Ahn Dai-Hee, a former Supreme Court justice who was forced to withdraw his nomination last month following controversy over income he amassed after leaving the bench and going into private practice.

The premiership is a largely symbolic position in South Korea where all real power lies in the presidential Blue House.

But it is the only cabinet post requiring parliamentary approval and Moon can expect a rough confirmation hearing if his nomination makes it that far.

The controversy concerns remarks he made regarding two linked and hugely sensitive issues - Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula, and the Japanese military's use of wartime sex slaves.

In a 2011 church lecture, Moon had described the repressive colonial period as "God's will" and in an editorial six years earlier said the terms of a 1965 treaty with Tokyo ruled out further compensation for South Korean women forced into Japanese military brothels.

Although Moon insisted his comments had been taken out of context, they triggered such a furore that even members of Park's ruling Saenuri Party have voiced doubts about his nomination.

The Saenuri Party controls 148 seats in the 285-seat parliament, so if only a handful of its legislators rebel, Moon will fall short of the simple majority he needs.

Suh Chung-Won, a senior Saenuri MP who is running for the party leadership, made it clear Wednesday that Moon should step down.

"It would be better for the nominee not to become a burden for the sake of the party, people and the government," Suh told reporters.

Suh is a key Park supporter and his remarks have been taken by some as an implicit message from the president that Moon needs to withdraw.

The motion to confirm Moon as premier was scheduled to be tabled in parliament on Tuesday, but was delayed due to what the presidential Blue House described as Park's busy schedule during an ongoing visit to Central Asia.

The prime minister's job fell open after incumbent Chung Hong-Won resigned amid strident public criticism of the government's response to the Sewol tragedy which claimed around 300 lives, mostly schoolchildren.