South Korean prosecutors arrested two former top presidential aides as an influence-peddling scandal that has seen protesters call for the resignation of President Park Geun-Hye deepened.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators at a rally on Saturday in central Seoul demanded Park step down over the crisis involving an old friend, Choi Soon-sil, who is alleged to have abused her closeness to the president.
Choi has been arrested for fraud and also stands accused of meddling in state affairs – including government appointments and policy decisions – despite holding no official position.
Ahn Jong-beom, a former senior advisor to Park, was formally arrested early on Sunday on charges of abuse of power and attempted coercion, the Yonhap news agency reported.
He is suspected of helping Choi collect millions of dollars in donations from conglomerates like Samsung to two dubious non-profit foundations which Choi set up and allegedly used for personal gain.
Prosecutors also arrested Jeong Ho-Seong, another former presidential aide, over allegations that he leaked classified information.
The 47-year-old Jeong, who was known as Park’s right hand man and has worked with her since 1998, is suspected of passing presidential speeches and official documents to Choi.
Park’s approval rating has fallen to just five percent, a record for a sitting president and the lowest since such polling began in 1988, according to a Gallup Korea survey released on Friday.
Saturday’s demonstration in the capital was the biggest so far against her. Despite the huge protests, Park is not expected to resign with just over a year of her single term in office left.
Park has been scrambling to restore trust in her administration as the crisis grows, reshuffling ministers and senior advisers to bring in figures from outside her ruling conservative Saenuri Party.
In a televised address on Friday, she agreed to be questioned by prosecutors, and sought to portray herself as an over-trusting friend who had let her guard down at a moment of weakness.
Her voice choking with emotion, Park said she had been living a “lonely life” as president and had turned to Choi for company and help.
Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from Seoul, said the organisers had secured a court injunction to overcome a police ban on them marching.
“This is a show of force, a show of anger,” he said. “If President Park Geun-hye was trying to quell that anger with her second apology just a day ago, it seems she hasn’t succeeded.”
Police said they had deployed 17,600 officers and 220 units including buses and mobile barriers at the demonstration with officers in riot gear lining the alleys and streets leading to the presidential Blue House.