2 former aides of Park arrested as S Korea scandal widens

Seoul: South Korean prosecutors today formally arrested two former presidential aides as they bring their investigation over a bizarre political scandal that has engulfed the nation a step closer to President Park Geun-hye.

Park has issued consecutive apologies following suspicion that she allowed her longtime friend and daughter of a late cult leader to manipulate power from the shadows. But the apologies did little to assuage simmering public anger, which culminated in the largest anti-government rally in the capital in nearly a year on Saturday when tens of thousands of people demanded that Park step down.

The Seoul Central District Court granted prosecutors’ request for the arrest of Ahn Jong-beom, Park’s former senior secretary for policy coordination who is suspected of pressuring companies into making large donations to nonprofit organisations controlled by Park’s friend, court spokesman Shin Jae-hwan said.

The court also issued an arrest warrant for Jung Ho-sung, another former presidential aide accused of passing on classified presidential documents to Choi Soon-sil, whose close relationship with Park triggered the scandal.

Prosecutors today also summoned for questioning Woo Byung-woo, former senior presidential secretary for civil affairs who has been blamed for failing to prevent Choi from influencing state affairs and is embroiled in separate corruption allegations surrounding his family.

Park has admitted that she sent drafts of her speeches to Choi for editing. However, she avoided more damning allegations raised by the media that Choi perhaps meddled in important government decisions on policy and personnel. Choi was arrested earlier in the week on charges of abuse of authority and attempted fraud.

Tens of thousands of people rallied in Seoul yesterday calling for the resignation of Park. But opposition parties, demanding that Park to step away from domestic affairs and transfer the duties to a prime minister picked by the parliament, have yet to make a serious push for Park’s resignation or impeachment over concerns of negatively impacting next year’s presidential race.

Holding banners, candles and colorful signs that read “Park Geun-hye out” and “Treason by a secret government,” a sea of demonstrators filled a large square in front of an old palace gate and nearby streets, singing and thunderously applauding speeches calling for the ouster of the increasingly unpopular conservative president.

They shifted into a slow march in streets around City Hall, shouting “Arrest Park Geun-hye,” “‘Step down, criminal” and “We can’t take this any longer,” before moving back to the square and cheering on more speeches that continued into the night.