Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, center, presides over a Cabinet meeting -- his first job as acting head of state -- at the government complex in central Seoul, Friday. / Yonhap
By Kang Seung-woo
Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn said Friday, following the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, that he will do his utmost to stabilize state affairs as the nation faces many serious challenges.
He also said the government will listen to the people's voice and reflect it in running the country.
Hwang assumed interim presidential power earlier in the day after the National Assembly voted in favor of impeaching the scandal-ridden President Park. Until the Constitutional Court finishes reviewing the legality of the impeachment, which may take up to 180 days, he will lead the government.
"There are growing concerns that we are losing momentum in running state affairs amid the recent political turmoil," Hwang said in a nationally-televised address from the government complex in Seoul.
"In this grave situation, the government must stop state affairs from going adrift and the country from suffering an administrative vacuum."
In the wake of the corruption scandal, in which Park's confidant Choi Soon-sil used her ties with the President to obtain funds and favors, the embattled head of state had rarely focused on state affairs before being impeached. After the scandal broke, she issued three public apologies and even pledged to step down after the Assembly came up with a stable power-transfer plan.
Hwang, who also served as justice minister under Park, vowed to maintain strong military readiness against North Korea's threats.
"This year, North Korea has modernized its nuclear and missile weapons through a series of tests, so the government will work closely with the international community to resolve the issue, while remaining on high alert," he said.
This year, the Kim Jong-un regime carried out two nuclear tests in January and September along with a series of ballistic missile tests.
Right after the impeachment vote, Hwang called Defense Minister Han Min-koo and asked him to pay extra attention with regards to national security.
"North Korea may take advantage of our political uncertainties and undertake some sort of provocation," he said.
However, his office said that the acting president has no plan yet to raise the country's alert level unless the North's military shows any specific moves.
Following the national address, he also convened a National Security Council meeting to discuss security issues.
Concerns are rampant that the leadership crisis may adversely affect the nation's diplomatic landscape.
"A new administration will kick off in the United States soon, and the international atmosphere is quickly changing. I will focus efforts on protecting our national interests by maintaining close ties with our allies including Washington," said Hwang, who also talked with Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se about Seoul's sanctions programs against Pyongyang.
Hwang also vowed to keep a watchful eye on the overall economy so that the impeachment does not adversely impact the country's financial and foreign exchange markets. Korea will also make efforts to maintain the country's credibility on the global stage, the acting president added.
Since late October, massive candlelit rallies have been held every Saturday across the nation calling for Park's immediate resignation. In addition, she has been out of touch with the media and even from her Cheong Wa Dae staff.
"The government will listen to the public voice and consider it in leading the country," Hwang said, adding that the administration will closely communicate with the Assembly on various issues ranging from security to the people's livelihood and economic recovery.
The opposition parties have called for Hwang to step down, to take joint responsibility for the current crisis.
"I feel strongly responsible for the current situation as a prime minister who has assisted the President. I truly apologize for it," he said.