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South Korea's unification minister resigns amid tensions with North

South Korea's unification minister resigns amid tensions with North
Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul speaks during his farewell ceremony at the government complex in Seoul on Friday. Kim's resignation over heightened inter-Korean tensions was accepted by President Moon Jae-in earlier in the morning. Photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, June 19 (UPI) -- South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul has resigned amid rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the presidential Blue House announced Friday.

Kim, the point man on relations with Pyongyang, offered his resignation on Wednesday, one day after North Korea blew up the inter-Korean liaison office in its border town of Kaesong, saying he would take responsibility for the deteriorating relationship.

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President Moon Jae-in accepted Kim's resignation on Friday morning, presidential spokesman Kang Min-seok said during a press briefing.

He added that Moon "listened to [Kim's] position" while having dinner with him on Thursday.

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No succession plan was announced, but Vice Minister Suh Ho is expected to serve as acting head for the time being.

Kim said Friday he hoped his resignation would offer a "pause" in the escalating tensions on the peninsula.

"I hope my resignation brings a new positive mood to the relations and provide us with the opportunity to reflect back on the status and role of the unification ministry," he said during a farewell address, according to news agency Yonhap.

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Kim was appointed to the job in April of last year but was not able to hold any meetings with his North Korean counterparts.

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Inter-Korean affairs have grown increasingly troubled over the past two weeks, as Pyongyang has issued a steady stream of threats and provocations triggered by the longstanding practice of North Korean defectors sending information leaflets across the border via balloons.

North Korea severed communications lines with the South last week and demolished the inter-Korean liaison office on Tuesday. North Korea also said this week it would deploy troops to demilitarized areas on the border with South Korea and restart military drills.

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The liaison office was established in September 2018 to facilitate cooperation and communication between the two Koreas during a period of rapprochement marked by summits between Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Relations turned frosty after a nuclear summit between U.S. President Trump and Kim Jong Un last year in Hanoi, Vietnam, failed to produce an agreement. North Korea began testing weapons in the latter part of 2019 after a 17-month hiatus, and its rhetoric has grown increasingly hostile toward South Korea and the United States.

The growing crisis with North Korea appears to have taken a toll on Moon's approval ratings, which dipped to 55 percent in a Gallup poll released Friday, his lowest number in roughly three months. The president's approval climbed to 71 percent at the beginning of May on the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic but has tumbled in recent weeks.

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