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(ROUNDUP) Park sends ball into parliament's court

All Headlines 19:31 November 29, 2016

By Song Sang-ho and Kang Yoon-seung

SEOUL, Nov. 29 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye on Tuesday called on parliament to determine her fate, saying she will step down in line with a timetable and procedures reached by political parties that can minimize any confusion arising from a government change.

Opposition parties dismissed the call as part of a political gambit to stall for time and thwart their impeachment push, stressing they won't break ranks and will continue their move to oust the president.

During her third address to the nation over the corruption scandal centered on her confidante Choi Soon-sil, Park renewed her apology for her inability to address mounting public fury, but repeated her denial of any involvement in the scandal.

Earlier this month, the prosecution cited Park as an accomplice in "considerable parts" of the alleged wrongdoings carried out by Choi and her former aides -- allegations denied by the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.

"I will entrust the National Assembly with (the task of) making decisions on issues, including the shortening of my presidential term," she said during the five-minute address. Her single, five-year term ends in February 2018.

President Park Geun-hye speaks during an address to the nation at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Nov. 29, 2016. (Yonhap)

"If the ruling and opposition parties devise a method to minimize any confusion or vacuum in state governance and ensure the stable transition of government, I will step down in accordance with the timeline and legal procedures," she added.

Her address drew sharp criticism from the opposition parties that stressed public calls for her to bow out "unconditionally and immediately."

Rep. Choo Mi-ae, the leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, upbraided Park for failing to understand the mentality of the public, which has been revealed through massive weekend rallies across the country. Choo also said Park "shifted the onus" to parliament without clearly mentioning whether she will step aside.

Choo Mi-ae, the leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, speaks during a general meeting of party lawmakers at the National Assembly in Seoul on Nov. 19, 2016. (Yonhap)

"(Her speech) did not carry any (sincere) regret or contrition on her part," Choo said during a general meeting of party lawmakers.

Park Jie-won, the interim leader of the minor People's Party, also denounced Park, saying she refused to clarify when she will step down.

The ruling Saenuri Party, however, demanded that the opposition parties review the impeachment process "from square one" given that the president signaled her intention to bow out before her term ends.

"The discussion on the impeachment process has been carried out on the premise that the president will not resign voluntarily," Chung Jin-suk, the floor leader of the party, told reporters. "As there is a change in the situation now, we will discuss the impeachment process with the two opposition parties from scratch again."

Rep. Chung Jin-suk, the floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, speaks during a meeting of party officials at the National Assembly in Seoul on Nov. 29, 2016. (Yonhap)

Ruling party lawmakers who are not loyal to the president said that the ruling and opposition parties should negotiate over the president's "early" resignation until Dec. 9, and that if negotiations fail, they can then push for her impeachment.

The impeachment motion can be passed when it receives endorsement from two thirds of the 300 lawmakers. This means at least 28 ruling party lawmakers belonging to the so-called non-Park faction must back the motion even if all opposition and independent lawmakers vote for it.

During Tuesday's address, Park reiterated she did not pursue any personal interests in a series of the allegedly unlawful activities involving Choi. However, the prosecution did not back down, saying Park's charges have already been indicated on Choi's indictment document that cited her as an accomplice.

Park's latest address came a day after some of her staunch loyalists recommended that Park step down in an "honorable" manner rather than be forcefully ousted through the impeachment process. A group of retired politicians has also requested that Park resign no later than April of next year.

Opposition parties have been drawing up a draft for the impeachment motion and want to put it to a vote at the National Assembly as early as Friday.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party and People's Party picked two former prosecutors, Cho Seung-shik and Park Young-soo, respectively as candidates for an independent counsel. Park is to select one by Friday.

The independent investigation team, consisting of 105 members including 20 prosecutors, is expected to begin work next month. It has a mandate to investigate the case for 90 days, which can be extended by 30 days.

The presidential office has said that Park will disprove all allegations against her and establish her "innocence" through the independent probe. She may also meet with the press to express her views on the charges raised against her by prosecutors and the press. In the past, the chief executive had remained relatively silent on charges of wrongdoing, although she hinted that actions taken by her were conducted with "pure motives" and nothing to do with enriching herself or friends.

Public fury over the scandal continued to rise after Park was implicated as a suspect in the corruption case. Last Saturday, an estimated 1.5 million citizens took to the streets in central Seoul to call for Park's immediate resignation.


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