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Asia

South Korean President Park Geun-hye too busy to meet criminal investigators

Hundreds of thousands of Korean citizens have flooded the capital calling for her to stand down. But the scandal-plagued president refuses to meet with prosecutors.

South Korean President Park will not respond to prosecutors' questions about a political scandal this week despite a massive public movement against her, Park's lawyer said on Monday.

Investigators accuse Park and her secret confidante, Choi Soon-sil, of compelling major companies to donate more than US$60 million (56 million euros) to non-profit foundations that backed Park's policies and which Choi used for personal gain.

Park Geun-Hye speaks during an address to the nation, at the presidential Blue House in Seoul

Park apologized for the scandal and promised to cooperate with any investigations

Lawyer Yoo Yeong-ha said Park is too busy handling state affairs and preparing a legal defense against the mounting accusations and therefore had little time to cooperate with prosecutors, who gave the president a Tuesday deadline to respond.

"It is regrettable that the president cannot cooperate with face-to-face questioning the prosecutors have asked for by November 29," Yoo said in a statement.

Instead Park, the country's first sitting president to become a criminal suspect, will prepare for an investigation by a special prosecutor expected to take over next month, the lawyer had said earlier.

Park publicly apologized earlier this month and said she would cooperate "sincerely" with any investigations and would take responsibility if she was found guilty. But she has a rejected a series of interview requests by prosecutors in the past weeks.

South Korean protesters hold up candles and smartphones' light during a rally calling for South Korean President Park Geun-hye to step down in Seoul

Up to 1.4 million protestors gathered in Seoul for five consecutive weekends, calling for Park to stand down or be impeached

Abuse of power

Park has been accused of aiding the criminal activities of her long-time, secretive confidante Choi Soon-Sil, who was arrested last week for fraud and abuse of power.

Choi is accused of manipulating government affairs and leveraging her influence with Park to extort companies such as SK, Lotte and Samsung.

Koreans have taken to the streets in the hundreds of thousands to call for her ousting. The protests have been running for five consecutive weekends and are among the biggest in Korea's history.

Parliament could vote to impeach her as early as this week as a growing number of ruling party politicians back the opposition-led campaign to oust the president.

Sitting presidents cannot be charged with criminal offences other than insurrection or treason, but they can be investigated and charged after their term.

aw/kl (AFP, Reuters)

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