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'Korea Is Korea': Tajik Deputy Minister Fired After Gaffes Spawn Online Mockery

Samariddin Alizoda, Tajikistan's former deputy health minister, receives a COVID-19 vaccine. (file photo)
Samariddin Alizoda, Tajikistan's former deputy health minister, receives a COVID-19 vaccine. (file photo)

DUSHANBE -- A deputy health minister in Tajikistan has been dismissed after confusing North and South Korea and forgetting the names of UNICEF and World Health Organization (WHO) representatives alongside him at a press conference in Dushanbe.

President Emomali Rahmon reportedly relieved Samariddin Alizoda of his duties on March 31, less than two weeks after the gaffes were caught on video, going viral and spawning online mockery.

Multiple sources at the Health Ministry told RFE/RL that Alizoda was fired as a result of his performance at the March 18 press conference, where he announced plans by authorities to roll out the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine against COVID-19.

Commenters on the Internet used words like "disastrous" to describe Alizoda's inability to recall or pronounce the names of WHO representative Viktor Arshavsky and UN children's fund envoy Osama Makkawi.

"AstraZeneca vaccine was developed in England [and] is being produced in Belgium, also in India and North Korea," Alizoda also announced.

After journalists corrected him to say it was South Korea, Alizoda replied: "Yes, South, South Korea," adding, "Well, what's the difference? Korea is Korea."

Many of those in attendance broke into laughter.

Alizoda did not react to the swarm of jokes, memes, and criticism on social networks and publicly got the AstraZeneca injection as part of the official rollout on March 23.

The 55-year-old doctor of medical science was appointed to the post in May 2020 as coronavirus infections were surging in Tajikistan.

Before the appointment, Alizoda had stints in the Health Ministry and served as chief of the Tajik State Sanitary and Epidemiological Control Service.

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