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September 22, 2017

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S. Korea's Park refuses questioning by prosecutors as justice chief quits

SEOUL -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye will not answer questions from prosecutors over a snowballing influence-peddling scandal rocking her presidency, her lawyer said Monday.

Prosecutors describe Park and her secret confidante, Choi Soon-sil, as co-culprits in the scandal. They are accused of coercing top Seoul firms to donate over US$60 million to nonprofit foundations, some of which Choi allegedly used for personal gain.

Choi was charged last week with coercion and abuse of power.

The scandal has sparked nationwide fury, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets to call for Park's ousting.

A parliamentary vote to impeach her could take place as early as this week as a growing number of ruling party politicians back the opposition-led campaign to oust the president.

Also Monday, Park accepted the resignation of her justice minister, the latest in a series of personnel reshuffles she's made amid the political scandal that's threatening her leadership.

Justice Minister Kim Hyun-woong and a senior presidential adviser offered to resign last week.

Park's office said in a statement Monday that she had accepted Kim's resignation but withheld the one by her adviser.

Park has already fired eight of her presidential aides and nominated a new prime minister to try to regain public trust. But South Koreans have staged massive rallies in Seoul for five straight weekends, calling for her ouster.

Opposition lawmakers have said they'll push for Park's parliamentary impeachment by early December because she hasn't acceded to their request to step down voluntarily. The floor leaders of three main opposition parties are to meet Wednesday to determine when to submit an impeachment motion, according to the Democratic Party, the largest opposition party.

If Park is impeached, she'll be immediately deprived of her presidential powers until the Constitutional Court can rule on her fate. The court has up to 180 days to make a decision.

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