South Korea's scandal-hit president says willing to leave office early
JUNG Yeon-Je (AFP)
South Korea's scandal-hit President Park Geun-Hye said Tuesday she was willing to stand down early and would let parliament decide on her fate.
"I will leave the issue of my departure, including the (possible) reduction of my term in office, to a decision by the National Assembly", she said in a speech carried live on television.
"Once lawmakers come up with measures to transfer power in a way that minimizes any power vacuum and chaos in governance, I will step down", she said.
The statement is seen as a bid for Park to avoid the humiliation of being impeached by the opposition-controlled assembly over a scandal involving her long-time confidante Choi Soon-Sil, who has been arrested for fraud and abuse of power.
The opposition's main spokesman, Rep. Youn Kwan-suk, said Park's speech was insufficient.
"The speech lacked self-reflection and repentance," he was quoted as saying by Yonhap News Agency. "What people want is her immediate resignation, not dragging out and dodging the responsibility to the parliament."
Massive weekly protests have been intensifying over the past month, with up to 1.5 million people braving freezing temperatures in Seoul Saturday to demand Park's resignation, according to organizers.
Park's justice minister stepped down, while even staunch supporters from within the president's party have joined calls for her departure.
But Park -- in her third public apology over the scandal -- sought to distance herself from Choi, who allegedly leveraged her ties with the president to coerce more than $60 million in "donations" from top firms including Samsung and Hyundai.
"I pushed for the projects, sincerely believing that they were for public good and for the nation. I have not sought any personal gain there", Park said.
"But it was my fault that I failed to keep my personal ties (with Choi and Choi's associates) under control," she added.
The 60-year-old Choi is also accused of interfering in government affairs, despite holding no official position.
Park had promised to submit herself to a judicial probe, as well as a separate investigation by an independent special prosecutor to be appointed by parliament.
But she backtracked, with her lawyer rejecting a series of requests by prosecutors to make herself available for questioning.
Her approval ratings have plunged to a record low for a sitting president as top advisers and some of South Korea's most powerful companies are caught up in the ever-widening scandal.
The headquarters of SK, Lotte and Samsung were raided by state prosecutors last week along with the offices of the finance ministry and state pension fund.
(Staff with AFP)
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