by Yoo Seungki
SEOUL, May 22 (Xinhua) -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Thursday nominated former Supreme Court justice to become a new prime minister as the incumbent offered to resign to take responsibility for last month's ferry sinking disaster, the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said.
In a surprise decision, Park also sacked top presidential security adviser and spy agency chief, in whom she has placed deep trust, as part of efforts to restore public confidence by replacing her close aides.
Ahn Dai-hee, 59, was named as a new prime minister to replace Chung Hong-won, the incumbent prime minister who will be the highest-ranking government official to lose his job over the ferry sinking disaster.
Chung has offered to step down after apologizing for the sinking of the ferry Sewol, which capsized and sank off the southwestern coast on April 16, but President Park has delayed the acceptance of his resignation to allow him to make all-out efforts first to handle the maritime accident.
The post of prime minister in South Korea is largely ceremonial as power is centered on the president. The prime minister tended to step down to take responsibility for political scandals or policy failure.
Presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook told a press briefing that Ahn will successfully perform the duty of the national reform, which Park promised to make South Korea reborn as a safe country.
Min said Ahn gained confidence as a prosecutor in past investigations into illegal presidential election funds and corruption scandals implicating presidential aides, hinting he will become the country's No. 2 official who can tell hard truths to President Park.
The Park administration has been under public criticism over the bungling of rescue operations in the initial stage and lax safety standards across the entire society. Critics say the quick and nimble response to the accident could have saved more lives.
On the 37th day into search, 288 people have been confirmed dead, with 16 others still missing. Two thirds of the 476 passengers aboard the ill-fated vessel were high school students on their way for a class trip.
In her first nationally televised speech after the ferry disaster, Park vowed Monday to overhaul the country's safety system and reform officialdom, called here as a bureaucratic Mafia for the collusive links between bureaucrats and businessmen.
Park decided to disband the coast guard and establish the " National Safety Ministry," which will serve as a control tower of rescue operations.
She said at a meeting with senior secretaries earlier in the day that discussions will be necessary on whether the National Security Minister can serve as a special minister to make it possible for the ministry to play a role of the "strong control tower" in times of disasters.
Surprisingly, Park accepted resignations from Kim Jang-soo, head of the presidential national security office, and National Intelligence Office (NIS) chief Nam Jae-joon.
Kim has been criticized after he said the national security office in charge of security, defense and foreign affairs was not a control tower of disasters and sought to shun his responsibility for the ferry accident.
Nam has been a longtime target of criticism since Park took office in February 2013 as the spy agency intervened in the 2012 presidential election and forged evidence to charge a former Seoul municipal government official with espionage.
President Park apologized for the spy agency's evidence forgery scandal on April 15, a day before the ferry Sewol accident occurred.
Successors of Kim and Nam will be announced in the near future, the presidential spokesman said.