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South Korea: President Park Geun-hye to ‘Calmly Accept Impeachment Outcome’ 

in the Nov. 4, 2016 photo, people watch TV screens showing the live broadcast of South Korean President Park Geun-hye's addressing to the nation at the Yongsan Electronic store in Seoul, South Korea. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL (AP) — South Korean President Park Geun-hye will calmly accept impeachment if the opposition-controlled parliament votes for her removal this week, but prefers to resign on her own terms, lawmakers from her party said Tuesday.

Chung Jin Suk, floor leader of the conservative ruling party, said after an hour-long meeting with Park that she was willing to accept a now-withdrawn proposal by the party for her to voluntarily step down in April to set up a presidential election in June.

The party’s chairman, Lee Jung Hyun, who also attended the meeting, said it seemed that Park was hoping lawmakers would accept her resignation rather than push ahead with an attempt to impeach her.

Park has been accused by state prosecutors of helping a close confidante extort money and favors from large companies and manipulate state affairs.

Read the rest of this entry »

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South Korean President Park Geun-hye Struggles to Avoid Impeachment

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SEOUL (AP) — South Korean President Park Geun-hye said Tuesday that she will 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.

“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.”

— South Korean President Park Geun-hye

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 on Friday.

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

— Yul Shin, a politics professor at Seoul’s Myongji University

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.

[ALSO SEE – South Korean president’s office explains Viagra purchase]

“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. Read the rest of this entry »


A Presidential Scandal Transfixes South Korea 

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Park Geun-hye faces calls for impeachment after a friend was indicted and the president was accused of giving her access to government documents.

Now, one friendship Ms. Park does have has imperiled her presidency.

The friend, the daughter of a cult leader who once claimed to speak with Ms. Park’s murdered mother, sought to enrich herself through ties to the presidential office, South Korean prosecutors have alleged in an extortion indictment. The friend also received access to classified presidential policy documents, they say.

The snowballing political drama is paralyzing the government of South Korea, a close U.S. ally, at a time when the Obama administration considers North Korea and its increasingly aggressive nuclear strategy to be the top national security priority for the next administration.

Prosecution documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal say that foundations set up by the president’s friend, a 60-year-old woman named Choi Soon-sil, allegedly used her presidential ties to wrest millions of dollars in donations from Korean conglomerates. Prosecutors have raided most of South Korea’s biggest business groupsseeking evidence. Some of the money, prosecutors believe, went to pay for Ms. Choi’s affluent lifestyle and her daughter’s equestrian aspirations.

Ms. Park, second from left, in 1975 with Choi Tae-min, right, a religious leader and mystic who claimed to commune with Ms. Park’s assassinated mother.

Ms. Park, second from left, in 1975 with Choi Tae-min, right, a religious leader and mystic who claimed to commune with Ms. Park’s assassinated mother. Photo: Yonhap

A political scandal linking South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye to a charismatic cult leader and his daughter has prompted hundreds of thousands to demonstrate in the streets. The Wall Street Journal looks at how she got there. Photo: AP

Both Ms. Park and Ms. Choi deny the accusations. The president, in a tearful televised statement this month, disputed colorful reports in the Korean press that include shamanistic rituals supposedly held in the presidential office. Such claims are a “house of fantasy,” Ms. Park’s lawyer said.

[Read the full story here, at WSJ]

The denials haven’t stemmed a clamor for her resignation. Five mass rallies in five weeks have demanded the president’s ouster, with organizers estimating over a million protesters gathered in Seoul on Saturday. In surveys, Ms. Park’s approval rating has sunk to 4%. One poll showed that 80% of South Koreans favor impeaching her.

Choi Soon-sil, left, who is at the heart of a political scandal engulfing Ms. Park, was arrested in Seoul this month.

Choi Soon-sil, left, who is at the heart of a political scandal engulfing Ms. Park, was arrested in Seoul this month. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Opposition parties say they will push for an impeachment vote by early December if Ms. Park doesn’t step down. She has given no indication she will, though she has offered to share power with a new prime minister suggested by the opposition.

Even if she survives the tumult, Ms. Park’s diminished political authority presents risks for the U.S. and an early foreign-policy challenge for President-elect Donald Trump. The U.S. relies on close ties with Seoul to manage dangers presented by a bellicose North Korea. The U.S. has around 28,500 troops based in South Korea.

South Korean protesters calling for the resignation of Ms. Park held candles during a rally in Seoul on Nov. 19.

South Korean protesters calling for the resignation of Ms. Park held candles during a rally in Seoul on Nov. 19. Photo: AP

Ms. Park wants to deploy a sophisticated U.S. missile system next year to defend against North Korea’s advancing nuclear-weapons program. Opposition leaders, by contrast, put priority on closer ties with China, which strongly disapproves of the missile-shield idea, at a time when other Asian countries such as the Philippines and Malaysia are tilting toward Beijing. Ms. Park’s domestic opponents also seek to break with Washington by rolling back the sanctions pressure on Pyongyang. Read the rest of this entry »


Meanwhile, in South Korea: Hundreds of Thousands Rally to Demand Park’s Ouster 

Protesters march toward presidential house after a rally calling for South Korean President Park Geun-hye to step down in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. Hundreds of thousands of people flooded Seoul's streets on Saturday demanding the resignation of Park amid an explosive political scandal, in what may be South Korea's largest protest since it shook off dictatorship three decades ago. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Hundreds of thousands of people flooded Seoul’s streets on Saturday demanding the resignation of Park amid an explosive political scandal, in what may be South Korea’s largest protest in three decades. 

SEOUL (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of people flooded Seoul’s streets on Saturday demanding the resignation of President Park Geun-hye amid an explosive political scandal, in what may be South Korea’s largest protest since it shook off dictatorship three decades ago.

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“Park’s presidency has been shaken by suspicion that she let a shadowy longtime confidante manipulate power from behind the scenes. Protest organizers estimated the crowd at 1 million.”

Police said about 260,000 people turned out for the latest mass rally against Park, whose presidency has been shaken by suspicion that she let a shadowy longtime confidante manipulate power from behind the scenes. Protest organizers estimated the crowd at 1 million.

“People said it was a bad idea to bring my kids here, but I want them to remember today…and learn that democracies are built on participation.”

Waving banners and signs, a sea of demonstrators jammed streets stretching about a kilometer from City Hall to a large square in front of an old palace gate for several hours, roaring and applauding to speeches calling for Park’s ouster.

“In addition to allegedly manipulating power, the president’s confidante, Choi Soon Sil, is also suspected of exploiting her presidential ties to bully companies into donating tens of millions of dollars to foundations she controlled.”

Protesters also marched on a road in front of the palace gate and near the Blue House, the mountainside presidential office and residence, carrying candles, blowing horns and banging drums, while shouting “Park Geun-hye, resign!”

[Read the full story here, at The Japan News]

Bae Dong San, a 45-year-old man, said Park’s government has “worsened the living conditions of workers, completely messed up state governance and monopolized state affairs with her secret inner circle.”

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“It feels much better to shout together with many other people.”

— Bae Dong San, a 45-year-old protester

“It feels much better to shout together with many other people,” he said.

Despite rising public anger, opposition parties have yet to seriously push for Park’s resignation or impeachment over fears of triggering a backlash from conservative voters and negatively impacting next year’s presidential election. However, they have threatened to campaign for Park’s resignation if she doesn’t distance herself from state affairs.

“I have never been interested in politics and I don’t even have a TV at home…but unbelievable things have been happening and I came out today because I didn’t want to feel defeated as a South Korean citizen.”

— Cho Jong-gyu, who took a five-hour bus ride to participate in the rally

The protest on Saturday was the largest in the capital since June 10, 2008, when police said 80,000 people took part in a candlelight vigil denouncing the government’s decision to resume U.S. beef imports amid mad cow fears. Organizers estimated that crowd at 700,000. In the summer of 1987, millions rallied in Seoul and other cities for weeks before the then-military government caved in to demands for free presidential elections.

Train and express bus tickets to Seoul were difficult to get from some areas Friday evening and Saturday morning, with the protest reportedly drawing tens of thousands of people from other cities.

“I have never been interested in politics and I don’t even have a TV at home … but unbelievable things have been happening and I came out today because I didn’t want to feel defeated as a South Korean citizen,” said Cho Jong-gyu, who took a five-hour bus ride from the small southern island of Geoje to participate in the rally, where he quietly held a cardboard sign calling for Park to resign. Read the rest of this entry »


NORK Senior Intelligence Officer Defects

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More than 28,000 people have fled North Korea since the end of the Korean War, but high level defections are rare.

A senior North Korean military officer who oversaw spying operations has defected, say South Korean officials.

The officer has not been named, but the defence ministry in Seoul said he was a senior colonel in the Reconnaissance General Bureau and left last year.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted a source as saying the colonel was seen as elite by other defectors.

More than 28,000 people have fled North Korea since the end of the Korean War, but high level defections are rare.

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Last week, 13 North Koreans who had been working in one of the North’s restaurants abroad defected as a group.

Yonhap said a number of senior political figures had defected while working overseas recently.

It quoted government officials as saying this was a sign the leadership of Kim Jong-un was cracking.

‘Valuable information’

Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun said the South could not release further information on the colonel.

One unnamed official told Yonhap the man was the highest-level military official ever to have defected.

“He is believed to have stated details about the bureau’s operations against South Korea to the authorities here,” said the official.

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The Reconnaissance General Bureau handles intelligence gathering and spying operations, as well as cyber warfare, said Yonhap.

The BBC’s Stephen Evans in Seoul said such a figure would likely have valuable information about the workings of Kim Jong-un’s government.

How do you leave North Korea?

For most North Koreans it is almost impossible. The borders are heavily guarded and few people have the resources to fund an escape. Many previous defectors have escaped across the Yalu River into China. Read the rest of this entry »


In an Effort to Appear Relevant, Obama Administration Finally Sort of Developing Sanctions Against China Over Cyberthefts

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A decision on whether to act could come soon, close to a major state visit by President Xi Jinping.

The Obama administration is developing a package of unprecedented economic sanctions against Chinese companies and individuals who have benefited from their government’s cybertheft of valuable U.S. trade secrets.

The U.S. government has not yet decided whether to issue these sanctions, but a final call is expected soon — perhaps even within the next two weeks, according to several administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

“The indictments were a strong move. This is going to be an even stronger move. It’s really going to put China in the position of having to choose whether they want to be this pariah nation — this kleptocracy — or whether they want to be one of the leading nations in the world.”

— Rob Knake, a former White House cyber official and currently a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Issuing sanctions would represent a significant expansion in the administration’s public response to the rising wave of ­cyber-economic espionage initiated by Chinese hackers, who officials say have stolen everything from nuclear power plant designs to search engine source code to confidential negotiating positions of energy companies.

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Any action would also come at a particularly sensitive moment between the world’s two biggest economies. President Xi Jinping of China is due to arrive next month in Washington for his first state visit — complete with a 21-gun salute on the South Lawn of the White House and an elaborate State Dinner. There is already tension over a host of other issues, including maritime skirmishes in the South China Sea and China’s efforts to devalue its currency in the face of its recent stock market plunge. At the same time, the two countries have deep trade ties and the administration has sometimes been wary of seeming too tough on China.

But the possibility of sanctions so close to Xi’s visit indicates how frustrated U.S. officials have become over the persistent cyber plundering.

[Read the full text here, at The Washington Post]

The sanctions would mark the first use of an order signed by President Obama in April establishing the authority to freeze financial and property assets of, and bar commercial transactions with, individuals and entities overseas who engage in destructive attacks or commercial espionage in cyberspace.

President Barack Obama sits across the table from Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands as they meet for talks Friday, June 7, 2013, in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Seeking a fresh start to a complex relationship, the two leaders are retreating to the sprawling desert estate for two days of talks on high-stakes issues, including cybersecurity and North Korea's nuclear threats. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

“China is not the only country that hacks computer networks for trade secrets to aid its economy, but it is by far the most active, officials say. Just last month, the FBI said that economic espionage cases surged 53 percent in the past year, and that China accounted for most of that.”

The White House declined to comment on specific sanctions, but a senior administration official, speaking generally, said: “As the president said when signing the executive order enabling the use of economic sanctions against malicious cyber actors, the administration is pursuing a comprehensive strategy to confront such actors. Read the rest of this entry »