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Former Supreme Court judge named new S. Korean premier

SEOUL -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Thursday named a former Supreme Court judge as her new prime minister, as the fallout from last month's ferry disaster casts a long shadow over upcoming local elections.

Park also accepted the resignations of the chief of national security as well as her spy chief, presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook announced.

Ahn Dai-hee, 59, is to replace outgoing Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, who offered his resignation last month over the April 16 ferry disaster, which claimed around 300 lives.

“We believe that he is a right person to strongly push ahead with reforming government organs, correcting wrong practices and eventually transforming the country,” the spokesman said.

Park accepted resignations offered by Nam Jae-joon, the head of the country's National Intelligence Service, as well as Kim Jang-soo, the head of the National Security Council.

Both Nam and Kim came under criticism over their inaction when the disaster struck.

Ahn still needs parliamentary consent to officially be declared as prime minister, but this is a formality because the ruling Saenuri Party has majority status in the National Assembly.

Park's popularity ratings have slumped in the aftermath of the Sewol tragedy and her ruling Saenuri Party is greatly concerned over the political fallout from the disaster on June 4 local elections.

South Korea's main opposition party is expected to perform well at the upcoming local elections on June 4, capitalizing on public anger at the government's mishandling of the ferry disaster.

Parents and relatives of the missing and the dead have blasted the response to the sinking, saying delays in launching the rescue had cost lives.

There has also been rage over perceived corruption and lax safety standards that may have led to the disaster, with claims that the ferry was overloaded and that the passenger list was inaccurate and incomplete.

The polls are the first nationwide elections since President Park Geun-hye took office 16 months ago. They are widely seen as a referendum on her performance leading the country.

The 6,825-tonne ferry carrying an estimated 476 people sank off the country's southwest coast on April 16.

As of Thursday morning, a total of 288 passengers have been confirmed dead, most of them students on a school trip, with 16 others still unaccounted for.

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Newly nominated South Korean Prime Minister Ahn Dai-hee delivers a speech during a news conference at the Central Government Complex in Seoul on Thursday, May 22. (AP)

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