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Asia

South Korea's president offers to relinquish power, leaves decision to National Assembly

The embattled president has been the object of mass protests and calls to resign following a political scandal involving a longtime confidant. The opposition claimed her announcement is a ploy to avoid impeachment.

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South Korea's president offers to step down

South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Tuesday said she was willing to step down before the end of her five-year single term, but left the fate of her presidency to parliament.

"I will leave the issue of my departure, including the reduction of my term in office, to a decision by the National Assembly," Park said in a televised speech.

"Once lawmakers come up with measures to transfer power in a way that minimizes any power vacuum and chaos in governance, I will step down," she added.

Park's presidency has been rocked by a political scandal involving her longtime confidant Choi Soon-sil, who was indicted earlier this month for interfering in state affairs and directing funds to her non-profit organizations for her personal use.

Watch video 01:40

Protests challenge S. Korea's presidency

While Park signaled her intention to cooperate with the National Assembly, the opposition described it as a ploy to avoid impeachment.

"She is handing the ball to parliament, when she could simply step down," said Democratic Party lawmaker Park Kwang-on.

"She is asking the parliament to pick a date for her to resign, which she knows would lead to a discussion on when to hold the presidential election and delay everything," he added.

Historic lows

Up to 1.5 million South Koreans took to the streets of Seoul on Saturday to call for Park's resignation, marking the fifth consecutive weekend of mass demonstrations since the scandal emerged late October. Police estimated participation at 260,000 people.

Park has witnessed her approval ratings sink to an all-time low for South Korea, plunging to four percent. If Park steps down before the official end of her five-year term in 2018, she will be the first South Korean president to do so since democratic reforms were implemented in 1987.

In the event of her impeachment or resignation, elections are expected to take place within 60 days, in which South Koreans would nominate a new president to serve a five-year term.

ls/kl (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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