Seoul Leader Said Ready To Resign

SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea's prime minister and its governing party chairman said Wednesday they were ready to resign to take moral responsibility for a bribes-for-loans scandal.

"I believe the prime minister must take responsibility,'' Prime Minister Lee Hong-koo was quoted by his spokesman as telling a cabinet meeting. "I have no intention to cling to my post.''

Ahn Kwan-ki, Lee's spokesman, said the prime minister held himself morally responsible, although he was not directly involved in the scandal, which centers on a bankrupt steel company.

Lee Hong-koo, chairman of the ruling New Korea Party, also told President Kim Young-sam that he was ready to resign, party officials said Wednesday. Lee had been seeking his party's nomination to run for president in an election scheduled for December.

It remained uncertain whether the president would accept the two leaders' offer to quit, officials said.

The offers came shortly after prosecutors called in two close aides to President Kim for questioning about alleged involvement in the scandal. Before he appeared for questioning, Home Minister Kim Woo-suk also offered to resign.

Also questioned Wednesday was Hwang Byong-tae, a former ambassador and now a ruling party legislator.

Kwon Ro-gap, a close confidant of opposition presidential hopeful Kim Dae-jung, was another politician questioned Wednesday.

Senior prosecutor Choi Byung-kuk said the three were being called in as "suspects,'' which usually means that questioning will lead to arrest.

Two bank heads and two government legislators, including a lifelong personal aide to President Kim, already have been arrested on charges of taking bribes or peddling influence for loans to bankrupt Hanbo Steel Industry Co.