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Politics

South Korean opposition to name prosecutors for Park scandal

SEOUL -- An independent prosecutor to be nominated by South Korea's opposition parties will investigate suspicions of wrongdoing by President Park Geun-hye over a deepening scandal involving her friend Choi Soon-sil.

Separate probe

Park's ruling Saenuri Party, the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea and the People's Party agreed Monday to appoint a special prosecutor, with a related bill seen clearing parliament Thursday. The Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office is conducting its own investigation, but the Saenuri Party accepted opposition demands for an independent prosecutor as well.

Current law would have a committee including the vice chief of the Justice Ministry nominate two candidates for special prosecutor, from which the president would choose one. But in this case the two opposition parties will name two candidates, from which the president will pick one to lead an investigation.

The special prosecutor's probe is seen lasting up to 120 days.

The South Korean public is increasingly pushing for Park's resignation. Police estimate an anti-Park rally Saturday in central Seoul drew 260,000 people, a bigger turnout than expected.

Meanwhile, the Seoul district prosecutors have requested to question Park on Tuesday or Wednesday, and the president intends to cooperate. This would be the first such probe of a sitting president by South Korean prosecutors under constitutional government. Prosecutors said Monday the questioning has to happen face-to-face rather than in writing.

Potential charges

The probe of Park will focus in part on whether she gave Choi highly classified documents related to issues such as military communication with North Korea and diplomatic communication with the U.S. Also to be investigated is whether Park instructed former presidential secretaries to demand donations from conglomerates such as the Samsung group to two nonprofit foundations created by Choi.

Park faces allegations of abusing power and violating the presidential records management act. In South Korea, the president has immunity from criminal prosecution except for limited cases such as treason. But if findings fuel suspicion around Park, she could be pressured to leave office and later face prosecution.

Prosecutors on Monday questioned two people who worked closely with Park as presidential secretaries. By Sunday, Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong and leaders of other conglomerates had been questioned as well.

The Democratic Party of Korea, which has demanded Park relinquish all power in the national government, turned up the pressure Monday by demanding Park's immediate resignation. The party also Monday called off a meeting with Park planned for Tuesday, in light of complaints from within the party and those from other opposition parties that meeting with her would help her stay in office longer.

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