Park to hold high-stakes talks with opposition to break parliamentary impasse

By Chang Jae-soon

SEOUL, Sept. 16 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye was to visit the National Assembly on Monday for talks with the opposition party chief about how to break a parliamentary gridlock that worsened after the prosecutor general offered to resign over allegations of an illegitimate child.

The main opposition Democratic Party (DP) believes that Prosecutor General Chae Dong-wook has been forced to quit for aggressively pursuing an investigation into allegations that the state spy agency, the National Intelligence Service (NIS), attempted to influence December's presidential election.

Chae's resignation is sure to be a key topic for Monday's three-way talks that will bring together Park, DP leader Kim Hang-gil and ruling Saenuri Party leader Hwang Woo-yea. Kim said Sunday he will raise the issue as a priority and that Park should be prepared to answer the allegations surrounding Chae's resignation.

Chae offered to step down on Friday, a week after allegations surfaced that he fathered a son through an extramarital affair in 2002. He denied the allegations, but said they still made it difficult for him to carry out his duties as chief prosecutor.

The resignation came shortly after Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn ordered an internal inspection into the allegations, citing a need to end the controversy over ethical standards of the prosecution chief. It was the first time that such an inspection order has been made.

Some saw Chae's departure as an effort to evade the inspection for fears that the illegitimate child allegations would prove true, while the opposition party and other critics denounced the rare inspection order as an attempt to force Chae out of office to blunt the probe into the election meddling scandal.

The presidential office has said Chae's resignation is nothing but an issue about his ethical standards, accusing the opposition party of trying to take political advantage of the matter. The top office also said Park has not yet accepted his resignation, stressing that the truth about the illegitimate child allegations should be revealed first.

That suggests the inspection into the allegations will be carried out as planned.

But on Monday, Rep. Park Jie-won of the DP made fresh allegations that a former senior presidential secretary colluded with a top intelligence official to spy on and glean information from Chae in a suspected attempt to remove him from office.

The alleged spying was conducted mainly in August, and the former secretary, Kwak Sang-do, handed the file on Chae over to his successor, Lee Joong-hee, when he was replaced in a reshuffle of the top office last month, the lawmaker claimed.

He also alleged that the new secretary shared the file with a senior prosecutor, Kim Kwang-soo.

In a dramatic twist, Chae attempted to fire back later Monday, breaking silence and ordering the prosecution to conduct an inspection of senior prosecutor Kim over his alleged involvement in spying on his boss.

Monday's talks will determine whether the opposition DP will put an end to its outdoor protest campaign and return to the National Assembly. Since early August, opposition officials have been working at a makeshift tent office set up at a plaza in front of City Hall in downtown Seoul.

The opposition launched the protest to press Park to apologize over the election meddling scandal involving the spy agency. The DP also had repeatedly called for one-on-one talks between its leader Kim and Park to discuss the matter.

Park has rejected the demand to apologize, saying she neither had any knowledge of the alleged wrongdoing nor did she benefit from it.

The scandal centers on the spy agency's mobilization of some of its agents to post Internet comments, some of them critical of Park's opposition rival in the December poll. The opposition claims it was an attempt to help Park win the election, but the NIS says it was part of its anti-North Korea psychological warfare.

Considering the wide differences between Park and the opposition party on these contentious issues, prospects are dim that Monday's talks would produce any agreement and lead to the opposition ending the outdoor protest.

Monday's meeting was set up last week after Park proposed it as a compromise for the opposition party's demand for one-on-one talks with her about the election meddling scandal. Up until then, Park had maintained that such talks with the opposition should be only about non-political, livelihood issues.

Park's offer of talks came at a time when she needs opposition cooperation to pass through parliament a series of bills aimed at revitalizing the country's economy and improving the livelihoods of the working class, the No. 1 priority for her in the second half of the year.

Before going into the three-way talks, Park will hold a meeting with parliamentary leaders, including Speaker Kang Chang-hee and the chiefs of the ruling and opposition parties, to brief them on the results of her recent trip to Russia and Vietnam.

The visit has been touted as the kickoff of her "sales diplomacy" drive aimed at using diplomatic trips and meetings to promote South Korea's economic interests so as to help Asia's fourth-largest economy recover from a prolonged slump.

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