Fri, Oct 17, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Roh aide arrested in bribe scandal

REUTERS , SEOUL

Left-wing loyalists vowed yesterday to fight for embattled South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and his referendum plan as an aide at the center of Roh's troubles was arrested on bribery and other charges.

Roh has stunned his country of 48 million people by calling for a referendum on his short tenure in office, saying he had lost confidence in his ability to do his job and wanted to hold a confidence vote in December and step down if he lost.

The bombshell announcement less that eight months into Roh's five-year term has galvanized his opponents, uniting three opposition parties behind a strategy of either blocking the referendum or toppling the president. Roh said yesterday the aim of the vote was to restore public trust in politics.

While parliament grappled over a referendum that many politicians and scholars argued was unconstitutional, prosecutors said they had arrested the Roh aide whose political funding scandal triggered the crisis.

Choi Do-sul, a Roh confidant for 20 years, was arrested late on Wednesday on suspicion of bribery and political funding law violations for taking cash from the scandal-tainted SK Group, an official from the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office said.

"Choi admitted that he had received 1.1 billion won (US$940,000) from SK and has used 390 million won (US$333,200) from the money," the official said by telephone.

On Tuesday, the main opposition Grand National Party (GNP) demanded an investigation into any possible Roh involvement in Choi's alleged crimes before a referendum. The GNP said it would try to impeach Roh if he were shown to be involved.

On Wednesday, the political party that propelled Roh to the presidency last December urged him to withdraw his referendum plan, describing it as unconstitutional.

The Millennium Democratic Party (MDP) then joined forces with the GNP and a minor party to oppose the referendum. The anti-Roh bloc has more than the two-thirds of the 272 seats in the National Assembly needed to impeach Roh or block constitutional change.

Roh left the MDP last month after 40 left-leaning loyalists quit the party to form a new group, designed to be a vehicle to support the president in a parliamentary election next April.

The new group, the tentatively named People's Participatory United New Party, vowed to fight for the beleaguered Roh.

"We will strongly fight against the three opposition parties who are joining forces against the president for differing motives," said party representative Kim Keun-tae.

"We need a referendum to reunite society, whatever the outcome," he said, without explaining how that could happen.

Roh told presidential Blue House reporters the proposed referendum was aimed at providing more transparency in politics and trust among people, even if it caused pain to his supporters.

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