South Korea prosecutors charge two senior ex-Park officials: Media

South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn arrive to attend an emergency cabinet meeting at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul
PHOTO: Reuters

SEOUL - South Korean prosecutors indicted a former senior presidential aide and a former vice culture minister as part of their investigation of a corruption scandal that has led to President Park Geun-hye's impeachment in parliament, media said on Sunday.

Friday's overwhelming parliamentary vote to remove Park from office puts her fate in the hands of a nine-judge Constitutional Court, which has 180 days to decide whether to uphold the motion.

Park's powers have been suspended and assumed by Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who has ordered a high state of military alert for any attempt by rival North Korea to take advantage of the political turmoil.

South Korea's finance minister warned on Sunday that the impeachment could weigh on the economy if sentiment was undermined.

Park, whose father ruled the country for 18 years after seizing power in a military coup, has been accused of colluding with a friend and a former aide, both of whom prosecutors indicted earlier, to pressure big businesses to donate to foundations set up to back her policy initiatives.

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, who is serving a single five-year term ending in February 2018, has denied wrongdoing but apologised for carelessness in her ties with her friend, Choi Soon-sil.

Prosecutors on Sunday again characterised Park as a co-conspirator, media reported, although she has immunity from prosecution as long as she remains in office.

They made a similar assertion on Nov. 20.

If the Constitutional Court affirms the parliamentary vote, Park would become the first democratically elected leader of Asia's fourth-biggest economy to be forced from office. "Amid so much global uncertainty, this political situation is further weighing on the economy and a downturn in sentiment could be another problem," Finance Minister Yoo Il-ho told a news conference.

PROTESTS

The two former officials whose charges were reported by media on Sunday included a former senior economic aide, Cho Won-dong, accused of colluding with the president in trying to pressure a South Korean conglomerate, CJ Group, to dismiss a group vice chairman, the Yonhap News Agency reported.

Cho told a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday he had found the arm-twisting wrong but he had to deliver the president's message to the conglomerate.

The chairman of food-to-entertainment conglomerate CJ Group, Sohn Kyung-shik, told a separate hearing that Cho had met him and asked the group to remove the vice chairman from her position.

The second newly charged person was a former vice culture minister, Kim Chong, indicted for suspected abuse of power and coercion for exerting influence over a state-run firm to make a contract with a sports management company controlled by the president's friend, Yonhap and other outlets reported.

Prosecutors were not immediately available for comment.

A spokesman in the presidential Blue House declined to comment.

The scandal blew up in October and has drawn large, festive street protests in Seoul for the past seven Saturdays, with the crowds calling for Park to step down immediately.

A candle-lit rally on Saturday drew a smaller crowd of about 120,000 at its peak, police said, although organisers put the total number of participants at 800,000.

North Korean state media has been scathing in its coverage of the scandal.

On Sunday, it said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guided a special operations drill targeting the South. Pictures in the North's Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed what appeared to be a mockup of South Korea's presidential Blue House as a target.

The United States, which has about 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea, was in close contact with South Korea and remained a strong ally, the White House said late on Friday.

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