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South Korean leader reshuffles Cabinet to try to win back public trust after ferry disaster

FILE - In this April 29, 2014 file photo, South Korean President Park Geun-hye pays tribute to the victims of the sunken ferry Sewol at a group memorial altar in Ansan, south of Seoul, South Korea. Park replaced seven Cabinet members Friday, June 13 in an apparent bid to win back sagging public trust in her administration after April's ferry disaster, which left 304 people dead or missing. (AP Photo/Yonhap, File) KOREA OUT

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FILE - In this April 29, 2014 file photo, South Korean President Park Geun-hye pays tribute to the victims of the sunken ferry Sewol at a group memorial altar in Ansan, south of Seoul, South Korea. Park replaced seven Cabinet members Friday, June 13 in an apparent bid to win back sagging public trust in her administration after April's ferry disaster, which left 304 people dead or missing. (AP Photo/Yonhap, File) KOREA OUT

SEOUL, South Korea - South Korea's president replaced seven Cabinet members Friday in an apparent bid to win back sagging public trust in her administration after April's ferry disaster.

President Park Geun-hye has come under harsh criticism for the government's handling of the sinking of the Sewol, which left 304 people dead or missing. She had already nominated a new prime minister and replaced her defence minister and intelligence chief.

Cabinet posts at the Finance Ministry and Security and Public Administration Ministry were among the personnel changes announced Friday, presidential spokesman Min Kyung-wook said.

The seven minister designates are required to undergo National Assembly hearings but their appointments don't need approval from the legislature.

Park's popularity has plummeted since the sinking but her ruling conservative party didn't suffer a big defeat in local elections earlier this month. Her party won eight of 17 important mayoral provincial races in the June 4 balloting while her liberal rivals took the other nine.

The cause of the sinking is still being investigated. Officials say excessive cargo on the ship, crew members' abandonment of passengers, and the coast guard's slow, unprofessional rescue operations were likely contributing factors for the disaster.

Authorities have launched a massive manhunt for Yoo Byung-eun, a fugitive billionaire who they believe owns the ferry, because his alleged corruption may have contributed to the sinking. On Friday, police detained Yoo's elder brother on suspicion of embezzlement, according to local police.

Earlier this week, thousands of police stormed a sprawling church compound near Seoul and detained six church members for allegedly helping Yoo evade capture and obstructing the raid. A female church member considered a key figure in efforts to help Yoo flee surrendered to authorities Friday and was detained for questioning, according to prosecutors in Suwon, a city just south of Seoul.

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Associated Press writer Jung-yoon Choi contributed to this report.

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