South Korea’s top prosecutor quits after Roh death

South Korea’s chief prosecutor quit on Thursday to take responsibility for leading a graft probe into former president Roh Moo-hyun that was widely criticised after Roh committed suicide.

Roh’s death has underscored the deep political divisions in the country’s young democracy and has also become a lightning rod for criticism of his conservative successor, Lee Myung-bak, who has tried to undo much of the liberal leader’s policies.

”The Prosecutor General’s departure ceremony will be held tomorrow afternoon,” a prosecution official said. ”We understand his resignation has been accepted by the [presidential] Blue House.”

Analysts said the political fallout from Roh’s death and rising support for his liberal opponents could delay for months legislation Lee had planned to lift Asia’s fourth-largest economy through tax cuts, pensions reform and privatisation.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted a Blue House official as saying Lee will formally accept the resignation on Friday morning.

Polls showed the popularity of Lee and his Grand National Party (GNP) both falling sharply after Roh’s death, which could hurt them ahead of a tough month of parliamentary sessions when they hoped to pass reforms on labour laws and media ownership regulations.

A survey by the public opinion firm Realmeter showed that 24% of respondents said they supported the GNP, behind the opposition Democratic Party’s 28%. This marked the first time Lee’s party has fallen behind since he took office in February of last year.

Nearly two thirds of the respondents said Lee should apologise for pushing too hard with the probe on Roh.

Roh left office about 15 months ago with polls showing most South Koreans saw him as an ineffective leader. He was being investigated on suspicion his family received about $6-million in bribes from a shoe company executive being investigated for bribing several other political figures.

Roh jumped to his death on May 23 from a cliff near his rural home, writing in a note: ”Don’t blame anybody. It’s fate. Please cremate me. And please leave a small tombstone near home.” — Reuters

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