Thousands of police deployed in Seoul ahead of mass rally

PHOTO: AFP

Seoul - South Korean police deployed thousands of officers Saturday ahead of a planned mass protest calling for embattled President Park Geun-Hye to resign over a crippling corruption scandal.

Despite a tearful televised apology to the nation by Park on Friday, in which she agreed to be questioned in a formal corruption probe, some 40,000 protesters are expected to turn out at the rally in central Seoul.

Police have banned the protesters from marching through the streets, citing traffic congestion, but there is a possibility demonstrators will try to make their way towards the presidential Blue House and 20,000 officers have been deployed.

In a highly personal televised address to the nation Friday, Park said the scandal involving her long-time confidante Choi Soon-Sil was "all my fault", but denied reports linking her and Choi to a religious cult.

A formal investigation is focused on allegations that Choi, 60, leveraged her close relationship with Park to coerce local firms into donating large sums to dubious non-profit foundations that she then used for personal gain.

Choi was formally arrested on Thursday on charges of fraud and abuse of power, but public anger has largely focused on allegations that she meddled in affairs of state and had access to confidential documents, despite having no official position or security clearance.

The South Korean media has portrayed Choi, whose late father was a shadowy religious leader and an important mentor to Park, as a Rasputin-like figure who wielded an unhealthy influence over the president.

Reacting to her address, the main opposition Democratic Party insisted her changes had been cosmetic and warned that it would begin a campaign for her ouster unless further steps were taken.

Park is unlikely to step down, with analysts suggesting she will limp on to the end of her term with her power severely undermined at a time of slowing economic growth, rising unemployment and elevated military tensions with North Korea.

The ‘female Rasputin’ at centre of S Korean President Park Geun-Hye political scandal

  • South Korean President Park Geun-Hye is facing calls to resign over allegations she allowed a close personal friend to meddle in state affairs.
  • People watch a television news report showing South Korean President Park Geun-Hye making a public apology, at a railway station in Seoul on October 25, 2016.
  • South Korean President Park Geun-hye bows after releasing a statement of apology to the public during a news conference at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, October 25, 2016.
  • South Korea’s presidential office said on Saturday it was cooperating with prosecutors’investigation into key aides to President Park Geun-hye over allegations an old friend of hers enjoyed inappropriate influence over her.
  • Prosecutors’ request for presidential Blue House documents came ahead of an evening protest expected to draw thousands in central Seoul calling for Park’s resignation amid a scandal that has cast her presidency into crisis.
  • A woman attends a protest denouncing President Park Geun-hye over a recent influence-peddling scandal in central Seoul
  • Protestors hang a caricature showing South Korean President Park Geun-Hye (L) and her confidante Choi Soon-Sil (C), on a board during a rally denouncing a scandal over President Park's aide in Seoul on October 27, 2016.
  • South Korean prosecutors on October 27 set up a high-powered "task-force" to probe a widening scandal involving alleged influence-peddling by a close confidante of President Park Geun-Hye. Choi Soon-Sil, an enigmatic woman with no government position, was already part of an investigation into allegations that she used her relationship with the president to strong-arm conglomerates into multi-million dollar donations to two non-profit foundations.
  • Park’s office said late on Friday she had ordered her senior secretaries to tender their resignations, and she will reshuffle the office in the near future. Her chief of staff separately offered to resign earlier, the office said.
  • The deepening crisis over allegations that Park’s friend, Choi Soon-sil, enjoyed inappropriate influence over her has sent her public support to an all-time low, with more than 40 percent in an opinion poll saying Park should resign or be impeached.

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