S Korea's Park seeks more time from prosecutors

PHOTO: Reuters

Seoul - South Korean President Park Geun-Hye will not be ready to appear before prosecutors until next week despite their demand to question her sooner over a snowballing political scandal, her lawyer said Thursday.

Park, who would be the first sitting president to be interrogated in a criminal case, has seen her approval ratings plunge in recent weeks, with hundreds of thousands of protesters taking to Seoul's streets on Saturday demanding her resignation.

The scandal centres on Park's shadowy confidant Choi Soon-Sil, who is accused of using her ties with the president to coerce local firms to donate millions of dollars to non-profit foundations that Choi then used for personal gain.

Prosecutors have said they need to question Park by Friday at the latest as part of their investigation into Choi.

Choi, 60, is also accused of interfering in state affairs to the extent of nominating officials and editing Park's speeches even though she has no official title or security clearance.

Tens of thousands of South Koreans stage protest in Seoul calling for President Park Geun Hye to resign

  • Tens of thousands of unionized workers staged a general strike and students boycotted classes Wednesday, upping pressure on President Park Geun-hye to resign.
  • Demanding the president's immediate resignation, civic groups, the workers and students vowed to hold a large-scale rally Saturday.
  • An association of 500 civic groups declared Wednesday as "a day of citizens' resistance," staging rallies in front of City Hall in central Seoul and in major cities from 3 p.m. More universities also joined a boycott of classes to ramp up pressure on Park.
  • "Ignoring people's calls for an immediate resignation, Park shifted responsibility (for her resignation) to the parliament," Choi Jong-jin, acting chief of the nation's second-largest umbrella labour union KCTU, said during the rally in central Seoul.
  • Some 220,000 workers from the public transport, public service, construction and education industries under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions joined the partial strike by taking a day off or leaving work early.
  • Students from 17 universities, including Sookmyung Women's University, Sogang University and Korea University, began to boycott their classes Friday. A few more schools including Seoul National University and Kookmin University joined the boycott Wednesday. Incheon University, Inha University and Pusan National University will join the move from Thursday.
  • Starting at 4 p.m., some 20,000 laborers marched across central Seoul and stopped at the headquarters of major conglomerates including Samsung, SK, Lotte, GS and Hanhwa, which are suspected of contributing money to the K-Sports and Mir foundations set up and run by Park's close confidante Choi Soon-sil.
  • The rally organizers initially planned to march to a fountain only 100 meters away from the presidential office, but the police blocked their plan, citing traffic disruption.
  • The sixth anti-Park rally will be held Saturday at Gwanghwamun Square. As with last Saturday's rally, organizers said some 100,000 participants will completely surround the presidential office from several locations starting from 4 pm.
  • Tens of thousands of South Koreans protested in central Seoul on Saturday (Nov 5) in one the largest demonstrations in the country's capital for years, calling on embattled President Park Geun Hye to resign over a growing influence-peddling scandal.
  • Roughly 43,000 people were at the candle-lit rally early on Saturday (Nov 5) evening, according to police. Organisers said a growing crowd of 100,000 had assembled, making the protest one of the biggest since demonstrations in 2008 against US beef imports.
  • Park Geun Hye has been rocked by a scandal involving an old friend who is alleged to have used her closeness to the president to meddle in state affairs. Ms Park has pledged to cooperate with prosecutors in an investigation.
  • Koreans have been angered by the revelations and say Ms Park, the latest South Korean leader to be embroiled in a scandal involving family or friends, has betrayed public trust and mismanaged her government.
  • Her approval rating has slipped to just 5 per cent according to a Gallup poll released on Friday (Nov 4), the lowest number for a South Korean president since such polling began in 1988.
  • Police said they had deployed 17,600 officers and 220 units including buses and mobile barriers to Saturday's protest. Police in riot gear lined the alleys and streets leading to the presidential Blue House as the main body of the demonstration began the march through central Seoul.
  • Ms Park has sacked many of her immediate advisers over the crisis. A former aide, Jeong Ho Seong, was arrested on Thursday (Nov 3) on suspicion of leaking classified information, a prosecution official told Reuters.
  • No South Korean president has ever failed to finish their five-year term, but Ms Park has faced growing pressure from the public and political opponents to quit.
  • "Even though we're just students, we feel like we can't put up with this unreasonable society anymore so we're participating in this protest with like-minded friends," said Mr Byun Woo Hyuk, an 18-year-old high school student holding a banner calling on the president to resign.

Park's lawyer Yoo Young-Ha said the president was willing to "cooperate" in the investigation but said she needed more time.

"I will rush through my preparations and cooperate so that an investigation into the president can be conducted next week," Yoo said in a text message sent to reporters.

Under South Korea's constitution, the incumbent president may not be charged with a criminal offence except insurrection or treason.

But many have argued the sitting president can be investigated by prosecutors and then charged after leaving office.

Choi, whose father was an elusive religious figure and a long-time mentor to Park until his death in 1994, was arrested earlier this month for abuse of power and fraud. Two presidential aides have also been arrested.

Prosecutors on Thursday requested a local court to issue an arrest warrant for a former vice sports minister in connection with the case, Yonhap said.

Kim Chong, who served as vice sports minister for three years until last month, is accused of helping Choi's foundations win lucrative state contracts.

Prosecutors are also investigating whether Kim played a role in a recent decision by his ministry to provide a cash subsidy to a winter sports foundation run by Choi's niece, who is widely seen as her key aide.

Lawmakers on Thursday passed a bill to set up a special independent counsel to probe the widening scandal after opposition parties said they were dissatisfied with the existing investigation.

Under the agreement, opposition parties will recommend a special prosecutor to lead the counsel, which will consist of more than 60 prosecutors and investigators.

The team will be given 120 days to look into allegations against Choi and the presidential aides mired in the scandal.

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