Battered by massive protests and an impeachment push, South Korea’s president on Thursday made her first public appearance among her citizens since a huge political scandal exploded in October, as police arrested a man accused of setting fire to her dictator father’s birthplace in a nearby city.
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President Park Geun-hye’s visit to a rural market came as opponents in parliament squabble over whether to impeach her.
Police said they arrested a 48-year-old man who told investigators he set fire to the birthplace of Park’s late father on Thursday because he was angry over her refusal to step down immediately over the scandal involving a confidant accused of influence peddling and extortion.
A memorial hall for Park’s parents, ex-President Park Chung-hee and Yook Young-soo, was nearly burned down, a police officer in the southeastern city of Gumi said, requesting anonymity because of department rules. The hall is a popular tourist attraction.
Park didn’t immediately comment publicly on the arson. Earlier on Thursday, she visited a market in the nearby city of Daegu where hundreds of shops had been destroyed by a previous fire.
Daegu is Park’s political home turf where she was elected as a national lawmaker four times before becoming president in 2013. Local TV showed dozens of people at the market shouting “Park Geun-hye! Park Geun-hye!” and using cellphones to photograph her. One middle-aged woman wiped away tears.
Near the market, though, dozens of anti-Park citizens staged rallies calling for her ouster, according to media reports.
On Tuesday, Park said she would step down if parliament arranges a safe transfer of power, drawing fierce criticism from main opposition parties that described her overture as a tactic to buy time that would allow her to survive the scandal.
Park’s offer appears to have caused cracks among dissenters in her ruling party who earlier supported her impeachment. A group of anti-Park lawmakers is now saying they won’t join an impeachment drive if Park resigns in April and helps ensure a stable power transfer until a new president takes office following a presidential by-election.
A meeting between leaders of the main opposition parties today ended without any major breakthrough. They differ over whether they should push for Park’s impeachment this week or delay it.