South Korean protesters call for pres­i­dent to step down

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - WEATHER - By Kim Tong-Hyung

SEOUL >> Thou­sands of South Kore­ans took to the streets of the cap­i­tal on Satur­day call­ing for in­creas­ingly un­pop­u­lar Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye to step down over al­le­ga­tions that she let an old friend, the daugh­ter of a re­li­gious cult leader, in­ter­fere in im­por­tant state af­fairs.

The evening protest came af­ter Park or­dered 10 of her se­nior sec­re­taries to re­sign over a scan­dal that is likely to deepen the pres­i­dent’s lame duck sta­tus ahead of next year’s elec­tion.

Hold­ing can­dles and signs read­ing “Who’s the real pres­i­dent?” and “Park Geun-hye step down,” the protesters marched through down­town Seoul af­ter hold­ing a can­dle­light vigil near City Hall. Po­lice es­ti­mated that about 9,000 peo­ple turned out for the big­gest anti-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tion in Seoul in months.

“Park has lost her au­thor­ity as pres­i­dent and showed she doesn’t have the ba­sic qual­i­ties to gov­ern a coun­try,” Jae-myung Lee, from the op­po­si­tion Min­joo Party and the mayor of the city of Seong­nam, told the protesters from a stage.

Park has been fac­ing calls to reshuf­fle her of­fice and Cabi­net af­ter she ac­knowl­edged on Tues­day that she pro­vided long­time friend Choi Soon-sil drafts of her speeches for edit­ing. Her tele­vised apol­ogy sparked in­tense crit­i­cism about her mis­man­age­ment of na­tional in­for­ma­tion and a heavy­handed lead­er­ship style that many see as lack­ing in trans­parency.

There’s also me­dia spec­u­la­tion that Choi, who holds no gov­ern­ment job, med­dled in gov­ern­ment de­ci­sions on per­son­nel and pol­icy and ex­ploited her ties with Park to mis­ap­pro­pri­ate funds from non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Pros­e­cu­tors on Satur­day widened their in­ves­ti­ga­tion by search­ing the homes of pres­i­den­tial of­fi­cials sus­pected of in­ter­act­ing with Choi and re­ceiv­ing their of­fice files from the Blue House — the pres­i­den­tial of­fice and res­i­dence. Pros­e­cu­tors had pre­vi­ously sum­moned some of Choi’s key as­so­ciates and raided their homes and work­places, as well as the of­fices of two non­profit foun­da­tions Choi sup­pos­edly con­trolled.

The saga, trig­gered by weeks of me­dia re­ports, has sent Park’s ap­proval rat­ings to record lows, and the mi­nor­ity op­po­si­tion Jus­tice Party has called for her to re­sign. The Min­joo Party, a larger op­po­si­tion party that has re­frained from call­ing for Park’s res­ig­na­tion over fears of neg­a­tively af­fect­ing next year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, said Park’s de­ci­sion to shake up her sec­re­tar­iat was too lit­tle, too late, and called for stronger changes, in­clud­ing the reshuf­fling of her Cabi­net.

Park’s aides on the way out in­clude Woo Byung­woo, se­nior pres­i­den­tial sec­re­tary for civil af­fairs, and Ahn Jong-beom, se­nior sec­re­tary for pol­icy co­or­di­na­tion. Lee Won-jong, Park’s chief of staff, ten­dered his res­ig­na­tion on Wed­nes­day.

Woo has been blamed for fail­ing to pre­vent Choi from in­flu­enc­ing state af­fairs and has also been em­broiled in sep­a­rate cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions sur­round­ing his fam­ily.

Ahn, whose home was searched by pros­e­cu­tors on Satur­day, is un­der sus­pi­cion that he helped Choi pres­sure South Korean com­pa­nies into mak­ing large do­na­tions to the Mir and K-Sports foun­da­tions, launched in Oc­to­ber last year and Jan­uary this year, re­spec­tively. Choi re­port­edly mas­ter­minded the cre­ation of the two non­prof­its, which man­aged to gather around $70 mil­lion in cor­po­rate do­na­tions over a short pe­riod of time, and is sus­pected of mis­ap­pro­pri­at­ing some of the funds for per­sonal use.

LEE JIN-MAN — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Peo­ple watch a TV screen show­ing the news pro­gram about South Korean Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye’s apol­ogy, at Seoul Rail­way Sta­tion in Seoul, South Korea.

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