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(News Focus) Park seen fighting back amid resignation calls

2016/11/17 16:56

By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, Nov. 17 (Yonhap) -- From naming senior government officials to ordering a thorough probe into a high-profile lobbying scandal, President Park Geun-hye is moving to resume her official duties and seeking to pull herself out of the political quagmire brought on by a scandal surrounding her longtime confidante.

But Park's apparent shift from a low-profile stance put her on collision course with the opposition parties, which bashed the beleaguered leader for trying to "dilute" a corruption and influence-peddling case involving Choi Soon-sil.

Opposition parties have demanded Park hand over her entire presidential authority to a parliament-picked premier to steer a nonpartisan Cabinet, and step aside to advance the date for a presidential election, currently slated for December next year.

"It is a problem that (opposition parties) are criticizing the president's normal handling of basic state affairs," a presidential official told Yonhap News Agency over the phone, declining to be named.

This graphic, provided by Yonhap News TV, shows President Park Geun-hye, the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul and the flag of the prosecution service in the capital. (Yonhap) This graphic, provided by Yonhap News TV, shows President Park Geun-hye, the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul and the flag of the prosecution service in the capital. (Yonhap)

Since the scandal was brought to the fore late last month, Park had remained low-key, trying to allay public fury and appease opposition parties through two official apologies, personnel changes and overtures for dialogue with political leaders.

Although Park effectively rejected calls to resign before her five-year term ends in February 2018, she agreed to allow a parliament-picked premier to take "effectual" control of the Cabinet, a move rejected by opposition parties.

The opposition bloc is now pushing for a nationwide campaign to oust the president, highlighting Park has lost public confidence as evidenced by last Saturday's massive anti-government rally that organizers said drew some 1 million citizens -- the largest in nearly three decades.

With a series of attempts falling short of defusing the political standoff, the president has been turning her attention to stabilizing state affairs, which have been crippled by the sprawling scandal.

"President Park strongly believes she has to carry out her duties as head of state even though the entire nation castigates her (over the scandal)," another presidential aide said, noting any decision to renounce her authority and cut short her term in office would conflict with the Constitution.

In a sign of her determination to govern state affairs, Park named a new vice foreign minister on Wednesday and a new vice culture minister the following day.

The president has moreover ordered Justice Minister Kim Hyun-woong to carry out a "thorough" probe into a corruption case surrounding the ongoing construction of LCT, a 101-story building in the southern port city of Busan.

The Park government also pressed ahead with the process of deploying an advanced U.S. anti-missile system to the peninsula and the provisional signing of a bilateral military intelligence-protection pact with Tokyo, despite persistent objections from the opposition parties.

Opposition parties criticized Park's engagement with state affairs, accusing her of seeking to divert public attention from the scandal and shore up support from conservatives -- some of whom might be "shy" Park supporters reluctant to openly back the distressed president.

The parties, in particular, denounced Park's order for the probe into the LCT scandal, which reportedly ensnares some opposition heavyweights hailing from Busan. They fear the potentially explosive scandal could dwarf the influence-peddling case involving Park's friend Choi.

"It is illogical that the president, embroiled in a scandal herself, orders a probe into the LCT case," Ki Dong-min, spokesman for the main opposition Democratic Party, pressuring the prosecution to immediately question Park over the high-profile case.

This photo, taken on Nov. 10, 2016, shows Ki Dong-min, a spokesman for the main opposition Democratic Party at the National Assembly in Seoul. This photo, taken on Nov. 10, 2016, shows Ki Dong-min, a spokesman for the main opposition Democratic Party at the National Assembly in Seoul.

Park has been under fire for her alleged link to the scandal involving Choi, who is suspected of having used her decades-long ties to the president to meddle in important state affairs and even influence government appointments.

As the president hints at her resolve to remain as head of state, her supporters within the ruling Saenuri Party, including party chairman Lee Jung-hyun, stepped up their efforts to retain the party leadership.

A group of "non-Park" Saenuri lawmakers, who are not close to the president, has been calling for the party leadership to resign en masse. They have been holding their own "emergency" meeting to pressure Lee to step down and distance themselves from the beleaguered president.

"Holding the emergency meeting as if it were a provisional party leadership is a clear act of overstepping the authority of the (current) leadership and an act of dividing the party," Rep. Cho Yeon-hye, a loyalist to Park, said.

Amid a deepening factional rift within the ruling party, the non-Park lawmakers were seen turning their attention to Park's impeachment.

"Just tell me if there is any way (to bring down Park) other than the impeachment process," Kim Moo-sung, former Saenuri leader, told reporters. "When Park is certainly unlikely to resign voluntarily, there is no other way."

   The lawmaker even claimed that the president may welcome impeachment which would give her the opportunity to actively defend her role in the scandal.

Park apologized twice in the past few weeks and admitted she had been wrong in placing her trust in certain people, but has never accepted she was involved in any illegal activity. She even hinted that her actions started off with "pure motives" to benefit the country, but were abused by others.

Under South Korean law, lawmakers can impeach a sitting president with a two-thirds vote in the 300 seat National Assembly, but it is the Constitutional Court that must review charges raised and reach a verdict with six out of nine justices supporting the impeachment motion.

Rep. Kim Moo-sung, former leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, speaks during a forum at the National Assembly in Seoul on Nov. 17, 2016. (Yonhap) Rep. Kim Moo-sung, former leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, speaks during a forum at the National Assembly in Seoul on Nov. 17, 2016. (Yonhap)

sshluck@yna.co.kr

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