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(2nd LD) Park calls her corruption allegations preposterous, colossal lies

All Headlines 22:58 January 25, 2017

(ATTN: ADDS more remarks from para 19)
By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, Jan. 25 (Yonhap) -- Impeached President Park Geun-hye on Wednesday denied a slew of corruption allegations against her once again, calling them "preposterous, colossal" lies.

During an hour-long interview with Jeong Kyu-jae, the chief editorial writer of the local Korea Economic Daily, Park said that the crippling scandal involving her and her longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil appears to have been "premeditated."

The interview at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae came amid expectations that the embattled leader would hold a press conference in a move to rally her core supporters ahead of the four-day Lunar New Year's holiday that begins on Friday.

"If (I) track down (the string of the allegations), I cannot help but think that (the scandal) was premeditated, to be candid with you," she said.

"It is disheartening and tough to face misunderstandings due to too many fabrications, but I accept them as part of my faults."

President Park Geun-hye (R) speaks during an interview with Jeong Kyu-jae, the chief editorial writer of the local Korea Economic Daily newspaper, at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae on Jan. 25, 2017, in this photo provided by Jeong Kyu-Jae TV. (Yonhap)

Park has been suspended from her presidential duties since she was impeached by parliament over the scandal on Dec. 9.

The president is alleged to have colluded with Choi in extorting money and favors from big companies including Samsung Group. She is also suspected of allowing Choi to meddle in important state affairs.

Regarding these allegations, Park repeatedly said, "They don't make sense," or "I did not know about them."

Park, in particular, repudiated the prosecution's claim that Park and Choi are part of a "single economic entity with shared interests" -- a charge observers say is intended to level bribery allegations against the president.

"That claim itself is a lie that does not make sense at all," she said.

Asked about Choi's alleged interference with government appointments, Park reiterated that she has been open to any personnel-related recommendations, but any candidate for a post must go through a rigorous vetting process.

Commenting on China's angry response to the plan to deploy a U.S. missile defense system on the peninsula, Park stressed that Seoul's decision on Terminal High Altitude Area Defense is a "minimal, defensive" measure to counter Pyongyang's growing nuclear and missile threats.

The president went further to note that it is an issue of national sovereignty.

"If our sovereignty is trampled upon, our country would become a pushover that would be trampled on continuously," she said.

Regarding the inauguration last week of the Donald Trump administration, Park pointed to the need to "nimbly" handle possible policy shifts stemming from the new president that shows isolationist tendencies.

"But it is worrisome that our political circles do not deeply think about how to respond (to possible changes)," she said.

The journalist also asked Park if a series of allegations -- particularly those about what she did during a 2014 ferry disaster -- reflect "excessive interest" about a female leader or stem from South Korea's latent disrespect for women.

"Yes. I think it is a disparagement against women," she said.

Responding to a question about the massive candlelight vigils that have continued for months to demand her immediate resignation, Park said the rallies and the large-scale protests in 2008 over a mad cow disease scandal have something in common -- "weak rationales."

Regarding the recent arrest of former Culture Minister Cho Yoon-sun over the allegations that the government had blacklisted cultural figures critical of its policies, Park said, "Arresting her was too excessive in my personal view."

Park, then, denied she was aware of the existence of the alleged blacklist.

Opposition parties have lashed out at Park over the interview, saying it appears to be intended to conjure up an image of her as a victim and ease public fury over the scandal.

"Ahead of the Lunar New Year's holiday, (Park) appears to seek to influence public sentiment," Youn Kwan-suk, a spokesman for the main opposition Democratic Party, said in his commentary.

"By making a fuss as if she were a victim, she appears to seek to court (broader public) sympathy."


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