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(4th LD) Park turns down health minister's resignation over pension program

2013/09/27 16:38

(ATTN: UPDATES in paras 1-5 with presidential official's remark; CHANGES headline)

SEOUL, Sept. 27 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye on Friday refused to accept the health minister's resignation over the government's failure to follow through on its pension pledge for senior citizens.

Health and Welfare Minister Chin Young offered his resignation earlier on Friday, a day after Park apologized for scaling back her election promise to give a monthly allowance to all senior citizens, saying the current economic conditions could not sustain the program.

Chin, known as a key planner of Park's welfare policies and pledges, said in an emailed statement to reporters that he "feels responsible" as the main minister in charge of the pension issue.

However, Prime Minister Chung Hong-won immediately rejected Chin's resignation offer, saying the minister should keep his job at a time when the government has to deal with the welfare budget and other pressing issues and the parliament is preparing to conduct an annual audit of the government.

The decision to reject Chin's resignation was made after discussions with the president, senior presidential press secretary Lee Jung-hyun said without elaborating.

Health and Welfare Minister Chin Young (Yonhap)

The basic pension plan had called for giving a monthly allowance of 200,000 won (US$186) to all senior citizens aged 65 or above regardless of their income level.

Still, the government has recently decided to pay a monthly allowance of between 100,000 and 200,000 won to the poorest 70 percent of senior citizens aged 65 or above.

The revised plan is subject to parliamentary approval. Opposition parties have vowed to reject it, accusing Park and her ruling Saenuri Party of breaking their promise to the people.

The opposition camp, meanwhile, slammed the welfare minister's resignation offer. "At this critical time when the people are in a panic due to the government's breach of its election welfare pledges, his offer to resign is senseless and irresponsible," said the main opposition Democratic Party spokeswoman Lee Un-ju.

"Such an offer aimed to reverse the situation will enrage the people further."

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