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SKorea Pushes to Arrest Ousted Leader  03/27 06:07

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korean prosecutors said Monday that they 
want to arrest former President Park Geun-hye over the corruption allegations 
that triggered a huge political scandal and toppled her from power.

   The move comes after prosecutors grilled Park for 14 hours last week over 
suspicions that she colluded with a jailed confidante to extort from companies 
and committed other wrongdoing when she was in office.

   The Seoul prosecutors' office said in a statement that it asked a local 
court to issue an arrest warrant for Park. The Seoul Central District Court 
said it would hold a hearing Thursday to decide on the prosecutors' request.

   The court is expected to ask Park to attend the hearing, and its decision on 
her fate will likely come by Friday, according to court officials.

   An arrest is the next step before Park can be formally charged with crimes 
such as extortion, bribery and abuse of power. A bribery conviction alone is 
punishable by up to life in prison.

   Park has denied any legal wrongdoing.

   Even if the court dismisses the request, prosecutors can still indict and 
charge her. Prosecutors said Park's alleged crimes were "grave," and that she 
should also be arrested because her alleged accomplice, confidante Choi 
Soon-sil, and other suspects in the scandal have been arrested.

   Political analysts have said that arresting Park would also boost tensions 
and create a backlash from her conservative supporters ahead of an election in 
May to choose her successor.

   While in office, Park had presidential immunity from prosecution and had 
refused to meet with prosecutors.

   Prosecutors accuse Park of conspiring with Choi and a top presidential 
adviser to pressure 16 business groups, including Samsung, to donate 77.4 
billion won ($69 million) to two nonprofits that Choi controlled and allegedly 
used for personal profit. The companies told investigators that they couldn't 
refuse because they feared business disadvantages such as government tax 
investigations.

   Prosecutors believe the money Samsung gave Choi could qualify as bribes 
provided to Park. Prosecutors also accuse Park of conspiring with Choi and top 
officials to blacklist artists critical of her policies and deny them state 
financial support.

   Park has apologized for putting trust in Choi, but said she only let her 
edit some of her presidential speeches and provide the president with some 
"public relations" help.

   The opposition-controlled parliament in December impeached Park over the 
allegations and suspended her presidential powers and responsibilities before 
the Constitutional Court ruled on March 10 to dismiss her as president.

   The allegations plunged the country into political turmoil, with both Park's 
opponents and supporters staging massive street rallies. Three of her 
supporters, mostly elderly conservative citizens, died during clashes with the 
police after the March 10 court ruling.

   Park, South Korea's first female president, is a daughter of late dictator 
Park Chung-hee, one of the most divisive figures in the country's history. 
Conservative supporters revere him as a hero who lifted a war-torn nation from 
poverty, while liberal critics remember him as a horrible human rights abuser 
who tortured and imprisoned his political rivals.


(KA)

 
 
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