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South Koreans rally, call for president to quit

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The mass of protesters called for President Park Geun-hye to step down after she admitted her close friend and daughter of a religious cult leader, Choi Soon-sil, wielded influence over her decisions during her nearly four years in office. Park has pledged to cooperate with prosecutors in an investigation.

Prosecutors suspect that An collaborated with Choi Soon-sil, longtime friend of Park and the woman at the heart of the scandal, to pressure local companies to donate almost 80 billion won ($70 million) to two nonprofit organizations.

THE streets of Seoul filled up with tens of thousands of protesters calling for the embattled President Park Geun-hye to resign from her position amid an explosive political scandal involving manipulation by the daughter of a former cult leader. "Police said the crowd had 40,000 to 50,000 people; organizers said 100,000 protested".

South Koreans staged the country's biggest protest in years on Saturday, packing out the streets in the centre of the capital city as 17,600 police officers watched over them, some in full riot gear.

"President Park had many great mistakes and she had shaman religion", protester Na Tae-hong said, sitting near a statue of the Korean alphabet's inventor, King Sejong.

"She absolutely lost all authority as President over the past few weeks", he said.

Choi Kyung-ha, a mother of three, said her children asked her who Choi was "and whether she's the real president, and I couldn't provide an answer".

In 1979, Mr Park was assassinated by his spy chief, who said part of the reason that he killed Mr Park was that the President failed to prevent Choi's corrupt activities and keep him away from his daughter.

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There are also allegations that Choi, despite having no government job, regularly received classified information and meddled in various state affairs, including the appointment of ministers and policy decisions.

Tens of thousands of people rallied in Seoul on Saturday calling for the resignation of Park.

One national poll released on Friday had Ms Park's approval rating at 5 per cent, the lowest for any president in South Korea since the country achieved democracy in the late 1980s following decades of military dictatorship.

In her second televised speech in just more than a week, an emotional Park vowed Friday to accept a direct investigation into her actions "if necessary", but did not comment on specific allegations or promise any concrete actions.

Also Friday, special prosecutors said they "will sharply increase the number of investigators as allegations continue to snowball into different sectors", the Yonhap news agency reported.

Koreans have been angered by the revelations and say Park, the latest South Korean leader to be embroiled in a scandal involving family or friends, has betrayed public trust and mismanaged her government.

Opposition parties, sensing weakness, immediately threatened to push for her ouster if she doesn't distance herself from domestic affairs and transfer the duties to a prime minister chosen by parliament. If she resigns before the end of it, South Korean laws require the country to hold an election to pick a new president within 60 days.

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