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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Seoul Gets First Woman Prime Minister

SEOUL, South Korea -- President Kim Dae-jung replaced the prime minister, defense minister and five other Cabinet members Thursday in a shakeup sparked by a deadly naval clash with North Korea.

Chang Sang, 63, a former university president, was named prime minister, the first woman to hold the post in South Korean history. Chang, who takes over from Lee Han-dong, must still gain the approval of the National Assembly.

Retired General Lee Jun, 62, former commander of South Korea's largest field army, was named as defense minister.

The reorganization came 12 days after the navies of the two rival Koreas fought a gunfight near their disputed western sea border in which four South Korean sailors were killed and 19 others wounded.

The clash dealt a serious blow to the South Korean president's "sunshine" policy of engaging North Korea. Critics denounce it as giving away too much in return for little from an ungrateful regime.

Although the prime minister post is largely ceremonial, the appointment of a woman reflects a major departure from tradition in a male-dominated South Korean society.

"The role of women is very important in the 21st century," presidential chief of staff Park Jie-won said of the move.

Also affected in the shakeup were the justice, tourism, information, health and maritime affairs ministers.

Outgoing Defense Minister Kim Dong-shin, 59, was criticized for not taking a resolute stand in the naval skirmish along the poorly marked western sea border on June 29. The fight broke out when two South Korean navy patrol boats tried to chase out two North Korean warships that intruded into South Korea-controlled waters in the Yellow Sea.

The government reorganization comes ahead of parliamentary by-elections in August and presidential voting in December. The ruling Millennium Democratic Party suffered a serious setback in local elections in June, losing most key mayoral and gubernatorial posts.

Corruption involving government officials and the president's relatives was a key issue in the local elections. Two of the president's sons are in jail on charges of taking millions of dollars in bribes in return for peddling influence. President Kim's single five-year term ends in February and by the Constitution, he is barred from running again.