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December, 4, 2016

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South Korea's president offers conditional resignation amid scandal

SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korean President Park Geun-hye said Tuesday that she'll resign — if parliament arranges the technical details — in her latest attempt to fend off impeachment efforts and massive street protests amid prosecution claims that a corrupt confidante wielded government power from the shadows.

Opponents immediately called Park's conditional resignation offer a stalling tactic, and analysts said her steadfast denial that she has done anything wrong could embolden her enemies. The country's largest opposition party, the Minjoo Party, said it would not let Park's "ploy to avoid impeachment" interfere with a planned vote on impeachment that could take place this Friday or the next.

Buying Time?

Park, who did not take questions from reporters after her live address to the nation, said she will "leave the matters about my fate, including the shortening of my presidential term, to be decided by the National Assembly," referring to parliament.

"If the ruling and opposition parties discuss and come up with a plan to reduce the confusion in state affairs and ensure a safe transfer of governments, I will step down from the presidential position under that schedule and by processes stated in law," she said.

How exactly this might play out is still unclear. But some saw Park's speech as a clear effort to avoid leaving office, despite the resignation language.

One clue that she was trying to buy time, said Yul Shin, a politics professor at Seoul's Myongji University, was her comment on "shortening" the presidential term, which he said would require a time-consuming constitutional amendment. Park is to end her single five-year term in early 2018.

"There is no possibility that the opposition parties will accept her offer; not when the public is this angry," Shin said. "She apparently wanted to buy more time, but in the end she might have hastened the end of her presidency."

Others said lawmakers could shorten Park's term just by securing a vote of two-thirds of the 300-member parliament — the same number of ballots needed to get Park's impeachment motion passed.

Park's speech came as opposition parties were closing in on an impeachment motion. Even some of her allies have called on her to "honorably" step down rather than face impeachment. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people have rallied in Seoul each Saturday to demand her ouster.

The country's two largest opposition parties said they will propose to the presidential office two former senior prosecutors as candidates for a special prosecutor to independently investigate the scandal. Under a law passed by parliament earlier this month, Park has three days to pick a special prosecutor among the two candidates.

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