South Korea issues arrest warrants for two ex-presidential aides

November 5, 2016 9:28 PM EDT

South Korean President Park Geun-hye delivers her speech on the 2017 budget bill during a plenary session at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, October 24, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji


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SEOUL (Reuters) - A South Korean court said on Sunday it had issued arrest warrants for two former presidential aides under investigation in an influence peddling scandal that has sent President Park Geun-hye's approval rating to a record low.

Tens of thousands of South Koreans demonstrated at a rally on Saturday evening in central Seoul demanding that Park resign over the scandal involving an old friend, Choi Soon-sil, who is alleged to have used her closeness to the president to meddle in state affairs.

Park's approval rating has fallen to just 5 percent, the lowest since such polling began in 1988, according to a Gallup Korea survey released on Friday.

The Seoul Central District Court said in a statement that it granted a warrant to prosecutors to arrest An Chong-bum, a former senior advisor for Park, who faces charges of abuse of power and attempted extortion. An was already in custody under an emergency detention order.

Prosecutors are looking into allegations that An and Choi forced South Korean conglomerates to donate funds to non-profit foundations.

The court said it also issued an arrest warrant for a second former presidential aide, Jeong Ho-seong, who also had already been held in temporary custody.

Prosecutors apprehended Jeong late on Thursday on suspicion of leaking classified information.

An and Jeong both stepped down late last month amid the deepening crisis.

In a televised address on Friday an apologetic Park said her "heart was breaking" over the scandal, pledging to cooperate with prosecutors in their investigation.

Choi's lawyer has said he expects prosecutors to look into whether she inappropriately received classified documents.

Choi told South Korea's Segye Ilbo newspaper last month that she received drafts of Park's speeches after Park's election victory but denied she had access to other official material, influenced state affairs or benefited financially.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)



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