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Sunday, November 6, 2016, 12:18

2 ex-aides of South Korea President arrested

By Associated Press
2 ex-aides of South Korea President arrested
South Korean protesters stage a rally calling for President Park Geun-hye to step down in downtown Seoul, South Korea, Nov 5, 2016. (Ahn Young-joon / AP)

SEOUL — South Korean prosecutors on Sunday formally arrested two former presidential aides as they bring their investigation over a bizarre political scandal that has engulfed the nation a step closer to President Park Geun-hye .

Park has issued consecutive apologies following suspicion that she allowed her longtime friend and daughter of a late cult leader to manipulate power from the shadows. But the apologies did little to assuage simmering public anger, which culminated in the largest anti-government rally in the capital in nearly a year on Saturday when tens of thousands of people demanded that Park step down.

The two former presidential aides are under investigation in an influence peddling scandal that is rocking Park Geun-hye

The Seoul Central District Court granted prosecutors' request for the arrest of Ahn Jong-beom , Park's former senior secretary for policy coordination who is suspected of pressuring companies into making large donations to nonprofit organizations controlled by Park's friend, court spokesman Shin Jae-hwan said.

The court also issued an arrest warrant for Jung Ho-sung, another former presidential aide accused of passing on classified presidential documents to Choi Soon-sil , whose close relationship with Park triggered the scandal.

Prosecutors on Sunday also summoned for questioning Woo Byung-woo, former senior presidential secretary for civil affairs who has been blamed for failing to prevent Choi from influencing state affairs and is embroiled in separate corruption allegations surrounding his family.

Park has admitted that she sent drafts of her speeches to Choi for editing. However, she avoided more damning allegations raised by the media that Choi perhaps meddled in important government decisions on policy and personnel. Choi was arrested earlier in the week on charges of abuse of authority and attempted fraud.

Tens of thousands of people rallied in Seoul on Saturday calling for the resignation of Park. But opposition parties, demanding that Park to step away from domestic affairs and transfer the duties to a prime minister picked by the parliament, have yet to make a serious push for Park's resignation or impeachment over concerns of negatively impacting next year's presidential race.

2 ex-aides of South Korea President arrested
South Korean protesters shout slogans as they march after a rally calling for South Korean President Park Geun-hye to step down in downtown Seoul, South Korea, Nov 5, 2016. Tens of thousands of South Koreans poured into the streets of downtown Seoul on Saturday, using words including "treason" and "criminal" to demand that Park step down amid an explosive political scandal. The signs read "Park Geun-hye should step down." (Ahn Young-joon / AP)

Holding banners, candles and colorful signs that read "Park Geun-hye out" and "Treason by a secret government," a sea of demonstrators filled a large square in front of an old palace gate and nearby streets, singing and thunderously applauding speeches calling for the ouster of the increasingly unpopular conservative president.

Police estimated the crowd at 45,000, although protest organizers said about 200,000 people turned out.

Park has tried to stabilize the situation by firing eight aides and nominating three new top Cabinet officials, including the prime minister, but opposition parties have described her personnel reshuffles as a diversionary tactic.

One national poll released Friday had Park's approval rating at 5 percent, the lowest for any president in South Korea since the country achieved democracy in the late 1980s following decades of military dictatorship.

Park has 15 months left in her term. If she resigns, an election must be held within 60 days.

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