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Asia

South Korean leader rebuffs calls to resign

Tens of thousands have rallied in Seoul urging the president to quit for the fourth weekend in a row. The crowds are a challenge to the government's authority but the president has defied calls to resign.

For the fourth week in a row, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets in the South Korean capital of Seoul to demand the ouster of embattled President Park Geun-hye. 

Many demonstrators held their smartphones aloft as a special app displayed a burning candle designed to show solidarity with anti-Park sentiment. South Korea boasts the world's highest rate of smartphone ownership.

The president has so far resisted all calls to step down amid an ongoing political crisis in which she is alleged to have allowed a personal friend meddle in state affairs. The  scandal has rocked Park's presidency and united Koreans in disapproval, culminating in a protest last weekend that saw the largest marches the city has seen in decades.

Prosecutors have been investigating allegations that the president's confidant-without-portfolio, Choi Soon-sil, had leveraged their relationship to coerce donations from large companies like Samsung to non-profit foundations which she set up and used for personal gain.

The scandal has paralyzed the Park administration and caused the president to pull out of the gathering of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders in Peru. After a lengthy hiatus and multiple public apologies, Park has returned to normal duties and announced she will attend an annual summit with China and Japan in Tokyo next month.

Park's approval ratings have been at a record-low 5 percent for the last three weeks but she does still have supporters. Many of her most stalwart loyalists refer to themselves as "the five percent." They are devotees of Park's father, Park Chung-hee, a military strongman who ruled South Korea for 18 years until he was assassinated by his own intelligence chief in 1979.

jar/jm (AFP, Reuters)