President’s tea-time defense attracts criticism

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President’s tea-time defense attracts criticism

President Park Geun-hye’s decision to defend herself during a media event, instead of answering questions from investigators or making a plea in a courtroom, invited strong criticism on Monday from the opposition parties.

“Park showed a complete lack of understanding of the norms with her attitude, which was worse than that of a grade school student,” said Choo Mi-ae, chairwoman of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea. “Instead of starting a lame publicity stunt, she must actively submit to the independent counsel’s face-to-face questioning.”

Park invited members of the Blue House press corps for a meeting on Sunday to exchange a New Year’s greeting. During the event, Park spoke for 50 minutes to deny all accusations raised by the National Assembly, the prosecution and the independent counsel.

On Dec. 9, the National Assembly impeached Park for violating the Constitution and criminal laws by allowing her secret inner circle, including longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil, to interfere in state affairs, and for failing to properly respond to the Sewol ferry sinking, in which 304 passengers died after a delayed government response.

While the special investigation by the prosecution was wrapped up to indict Choi and other Blue House aides, the independent counsel probe and the Constitutional Court’s impeachment trial are still ongoing. The prosecution said Park was a co-conspirator in the Choi scandal, but did not press charges against her as she has presidential immunity.

After Park defended herself at the media event, opposition politicians, particularly those who left the ruling Saenuri Party in the aftermath of the scandal, attacked the move.

“She is the main culprit of the current chaos in state affairs,” said Rep. Oh Shin-hwan, spokesman of the recently established conservative party, tentatively called the New Conservative Party for Reform (NCPR). “It is regretful that she still fails to understand the people’s rage.”

The first trial session is scheduled for today and opening arguments will be made by the National Assembly’s impeachment committee and Park’s lawyers.

“With a goal to rule on the case by early March, the court said it will hold two sessions every week for a speedy trial,” said Rep. Kweon Seong-dong, head of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee. “And the independent counsel probe was intensifying, adding pressure on Park. She appeared to be desperate and staged the publicity stunt.”

In Sunday’s meeting, Park completely changed the apologetic attitude she had shown during her three previous public addresses.

She also denied all the charges against her, particularly the allegations that she allowed Choi to influence state affairs.

Last year, Park admitted she had given some power to Choi.

In her first apology on Oct. 25, Park admitted that Choi helped her write some of her speeches.

In her second apology on Nov. 4, Park said she was devastated that her friend had committed crimes, and in her third apology on Nov. 29, she said “failing to control my associates is, in the end, my big mistake.”

The National Assembly’s impeachment committee said Park’s denial that she allowed Choi any access is an attempt to refute the grounds for her removal.

Park said Sunday she will faithfully cooperate with the independent counsel when she is contacted to attend a questioning.

But Park promised the nation in her second public apology last year that she would faithfully cooperate with the prosecution’s investigation, only to later reject repeated requests for face-to-face questioning.

BY SER MYO-JA, JUNG HYO-SIK [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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