SKorea's President Park apologies again for political scandal

South Korea facing 'biggest political crisis': Academic

South Korean President Park Geun-hye said in a tearful apology on Friday that her "heart was breaking" over a political scandal that has engulfed her administration and said she will cooperate with prosecutors in their investigation.

Park has been rocked by an influence peddling scandal involving an old friend, sending her approval rating to an all-time low of just 5 percent, a 12 percentage point drop from last week, according to a Gallup poll released on Friday.

In a brief televised address to journalists, Park said that prosecutors should clarify what happened and that everyone involved should be held accountable, including herself, and take responsibility if found guilty.

"It is hard to forgive myself and sleep at night with feelings of sorrow," Park, 64, said, her voice trembling.

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A prosecution official declined to comment to Reuters when asked if Park would be subject to investigators' questioning, which would be a first for a sitting South Korean president.

Park's old friend, Choi Soon-sil, 60, is alleged to have used her closeness to the president to meddle in state affairs, and her lawyer has said he expects prosecutors to look into whether she inappropriately received classified documents and benefited unlawfully from two non-profit organisations.

"It is very miserable and regrettable that a particular individual is said to have taken profits and committed several unlawful acts, while we are working on a job in hopes of helping the national economy and people's lives," Park said, referring to Choi.

Protestors call for the resignation of South Korea's President Park Geun-hye as a snowballing political scandal continues to unfold.
Ed Jones | AFP | Getty Images

Park, who has faced growing calls from the public and political opponents to step down, closed her remarks with a bow and walked towards a row of journalists and repeated her apology. She did not take questions.

A former Park aide was arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of abuse of power, according to prosecutors, and a second former aide was arrested late on Thursday on suspicion of leaking classified information, a prosecution official told Reuters.

Choi, 60, who has been in custody since Monday, told South Korea's Segye Ilbo newspaper last week that she received drafts of Park's speeches after Park's election victory but denied she had access to other official material, influenced state affairs or benefited financially.

Employees watch TV sets broadcasting a news report on South Korean President Park Geun-hye releasing a statement to the public in Seoul, South Korea.
Kim Hong-Ji | Reuters

Choi's late father, Choi Tae-min, headed a now-defunct religious sect and was close to Park during and after the presidency of her father, Park Chung-hee, who was assassinated in 1979.

A 2007 U.S. diplomatic cable described the senior Choi as the "Korean Rasputin", an allusion to his perceived influence over Park Geun-hye.

Choi Soon-sil has been portrayed in Korean media as having inherited her father's influence over Park, while South Korean media have characterized Choi Tae-min's religious group as a cult and alleged that Park held a shamanistic ritual at the presidential compound.

Park rejected those allegations. "There is even talk that I fell into a cult or I held a shamanistic ritual at the Blue House," she said. "I am saying clearly: none of this is true."

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