SEOUL • South Korean opposition parties vowed yesterday to push ahead to try to impeach President Park Geun Hye amid a growing influence-peddling scandal, rejecting her offer to resign, and called on members of her Saenuri party to join them.
In a dramatic move that shifted the burden of resolving the crisis engulfing her presidency, Ms Park asked Parliament on Tuesday to decide how and when she should quit, which opposition lawmakers dismissed as a ploy to buy time and avoid impeachment.
The leaders of the three opposition parties, which together hold 165 of the single-chamber Parliament's 300 seats and can initiate an impeachment motion, said they would not negotiate with Ms Park's party on her proposal to step down.
"The only way left to go is impeachment under the Constitution," the head of the Democratic Party, Ms Choo Mi Ae, said at a meeting with the leaders of two other opposition parties.
The leader of the opposition People's Party, Mr Park Jie Won, said a motion would be voted on tomorrow or Dec 9 if necessary. "Impeachment is the only way."
Special prosecutor to head independent probe
SEOUL • South Korean President Park Geun Hye yesterday appointed a special prosecutor to head an independent investigation of the corruption scandal engulfing her presidency, her office said.
Mr Park Young Soo, who is not related to the President, was one of two veteran former prosecutors nominated by opposition parties and will lead a team of more than 100 investigators to look into the case, Reuters reported.
"Our focus will be strictly on finding the truth and will not limit the scope of our investigation or have consideration for whether the people being questioned are high-ranking or not," Mr Park told reporters.
His special investigation team is expected to start work next week and includes 20 current prosecutors. The team will have 20 days to prepare for the case and up to 100 days to investigate, reported Korea Times.
Mr Park currently works as partner in a local law firm. He previously served as secretary for the late president Kim Dae Jung, a senior official at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office and chief of the Seoul High Prosecutors' Office.
Korea Times said that Mr Park is well known for his handling of major corruption cases.
Ms Park, who has immunity from prosecution in the case so long as she remains in office, is alleged by prosecutors to have colluded with a friend, Ms Choi Soon Sil, to enable her to wield improper influence in government affairs and in fund-raising by two foundations set up to back Ms Park's initiatives.
The President has denied wrongdoing but acknowledged carelessness in her ties with Ms Choi.
Ms Park appointed a special prosecutor who will take over the probe by state prosecutors that has widened to include former government officials and conglomerate heads and also tried to question the President herself.
Ms Park has said she would cooperate with the work of the special prosecutor, whom she appointed from two candidates nominated by the opposition under a Bill passed two weeks ago.
The opposition needs a minimum of 28 votes from Saenuri to pass the impeachment Bill, which will immediately suspend Ms Park's powers while the Constitutional Court takes up to six months to decide the validity of the motion.
The court could take as little as two months, most legal experts said. If Ms Park is unseated, a new election must be held in 60 days to pick a successor for a full five-year term.
The prime minister, normally a figurehead post, would serve as acting head of state in the interim.
Saenuri has been in disarray over the crisis.
Party floor leader Chung Jin Suk said it would be best to set a deadline of April 30 for Ms Park to step down, but a breakaway faction of more than 40 members demanded she leave sooner.
Breakaway group member Hwang Young Cheul said on Tuesday the group was willing to negotiate an exit plan for Ms Park, but if all sides failed to reach an agreement by Dec 9, it would join the opposition's impeachment motion.
The crisis has started to weigh on consumer confidence and has dealt a blow to the reputation of the "chaebol" conglomerates accused of kowtowing to Ms Park.
Finance Minister Yoo Il Ho said yesterday the economy faced greater downside risks due to the crisis, and a recovery was showing signs of slowing because of uncertainties in South Korea and abroad.
Massive weekly protests have been intensifying over the past month, with up to 1.5 million braving freezing temperatures in Seoul last Saturday to demand Ms Park's resignation, according to organisers. Activists called for a sixth weekly protest this Saturday in central Seoul, despite Ms Park's statement that she would be willing to cede power.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE