Korea's President slams rumormongering

Korea's President slams rumormongering
South Korean President Park Geun-hye

President Park Geun-hye on Sunday reiterated her wish to keep a recent political scandal at bay during a meeting with governing party lawmakers, amid fears that the allegations against her top aides could derail her economic reforms.

Accusations that Park's former chief of staff Chung Yoon-hoi interfered in the presidential office's personnel decisions were raised last month by the Segye Ilbo, a local daily.

Since then, political debates have centred around the scandal, and less on what Park calls "urgent" economic bills.

Sunday's meeting is seen as a move by the president to refocus political debates onto the bills she deems central to her three-year economic plan.

"Economic reforms must be legally backed," Park noted, after saying lawmakers should wait for prosecutors to complete investigations into the purported scandals.

The president added that it was "embarrassing" to have the country shaken by "unconfirmed rumours reported by a certain newspaper."

Park's three-year economic reform plans aim to boost per capita income and GDP growth.

Announced this January, the plan requires tens of amendments to related laws that the president considers sources of red tape.

They include proposals to revise civil servant pensions, ease construction regulations and legalize telemedicine.

But with the Chung scandal dominating local headlines, Park expressed concern that it could trigger an unnecessary and "attritional" partisan debate.

According to the allegations by the Segye Ilbo citing leaked presidential office documents, Chung reportedly attempted to get the Presidential Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon fired, among others, using personal ties to 10 officials close to the president.

Chung is also suspected of competing for Park's favors with Park Ji-man, the president's brother, to the point of sending someone to tail the younger Park.

President Park rejected those claims on Sunday.

Chung and the others accused in the reports have also denied the charges.

Prosecutors are looking to ascertain how presidential office papers were leaked, and how much of the allegations are valid.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy has expressed skepticism about the prosecution's probes though, saying the president is "directing" the investigations.

On Sunday, NPAD spokesman Rep. Park Soo-hyun said the president had reissued a set of "guidelines" to governing Saenuri Party lawmakers and law enforcement authorities.

"The president's comments today were far away from the apology that she owes to our citizens, and a far cry from the guarantee she owes to prosecutors that their investigation will not be politically influenced," the first-term NPAD lawmaker said.

The NPAD has also created an in-house committee to conduct separate probes into the scandal that they have dubbed the "Chung Yoon-hoi-gate." The panel submitted a series of separate lawsuits later Sunday against Chung, and 11 other officials that have been linked to the accusations.

The party also declared its opposition to Park's economic bills, saying they would widen the country's income gap.

"President Park said Sunday that lawmakers must help pass key economic bills," NPAD Rep. Seo Young-kyo said.

"But I would like to ask, are the named bills truly going to help our economy?" Seo said, apparently warning that Park's economic initiatives will face resistance at the National Assembly, including those proposing to amend the Public Officials Pension Act.

The governing Saenuri Party is likely to be defensive in the next session of the National Assembly, which is set to begin Dec. 15.

Analysts project Saenuri lawmakers to avoid prolonged parliamentary debate on the Chung scandals, while demanding the opposition wait for prosecutors to complete their probes.

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