Asia

South Korean prosecutors to question ousted leader next week

South Korean prosecutors said Wednesday they plan to question ousted President Park Geun-hye next week about the corruption scandal that removed her from office, as the government announced that an election will be held on May 9 to pick her successor.

Park lost her presidential immunity from prosecution after the Constitutional Court ruled Friday to formally end her rule over allegations that she colluded with longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil to extort money from businesses and allowed Choi to pull government strings from the shadows.

Prosecutors said they told Park's lawyer that they'll summon her next Tuesday as a suspect in the scandal. Park's lawyer later said Park would "faithfully" undergo the questioning, according to the prosecutors' office.

Dozens of high-profile figures including Choi, some top Park administration officials and Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong have already been indicted in the scandal.

Park could also face extortion, bribery and other criminal charges. She has denied any legal wrongdoing and expressed defiance toward the corruption allegations.

"Although it will take time, I believe the truth will certainly come out," Park said after leaving the presidential Blue House on Sunday.

Park's comments raised worries about a further deepening of the national divide over her fate. Three people died and dozens were injured in violent clashes between Park's supporters and police following Friday's court ruling.

By law, a national vote to select her successor must be held within two months of Friday's court ruling, and the Ministry of Interior said Wednesday that May 9 would be the election date.

Moon Jae-in, a liberal opposition leader who lost the 2012 presidential election to Park, is the favorite in opinion surveys to be the country's next leader.

His campaign received a boost Wednesday when Prime Minister and acting leader Hwang Kyo-ahn, considered the potential leading conservative challenger to Moon, said he won't run.

Hwang told a Cabinet meeting that he has decided to focus on managing state affairs and resolving political and economic uncertainties triggered by Park's ouster until a new president is elected. Hwang would have been forced to resign and let a deputy prime minister serve as another interim leader if he had stood for the election.

South Korean conservatives have been badly hurt by Park's scandal. In early February, former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, also regarded as a conservative candidate, withdrew from consideration amid mounting media speculation about his political competence and corruption allegations.