News / Asia

Park's US Trip Tainted by Spokesman's Resignation

South Korean President Park Geun-hye addresses the U.S. The Chamber of Commerce in Washington, May 8, 2013.South Korean President Park Geun-hye addresses the U.S. The Chamber of Commerce in Washington, May 8, 2013.
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South Korean President Park Geun-hye addresses the U.S. The Chamber of Commerce in Washington, May 8, 2013.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye addresses the U.S. The Chamber of Commerce in Washington, May 8, 2013.
Less than three months in office, and during her first official visit to the United States, South Korea's president has suffered an embarrassing public misstep for her administration. On Thursday she fired her spokesman amid a police investigation in Washington that he acted inappropriately with an intern from the South Korean Embassy.

South Korea's main opposition party is calling for President Park Geun-hye to personally apologize.

Democratic Party spokesperson Bae Jae-jung says the scandal that quickly enveloped the president's spokesman, Yoon Chang-jung, was a foreseeable tragedy that has brought international shame to the country.

Bae says the party wants the presidential office (Blue House) to fully investigate and that President Park should apologize to the people of South Korea for hiring Yoon in the first place.

Domestic media in South Korea say Yoon hurriedly left Washington and returned to Seoul, not joining the President on her next stop in Los Angeles.

District of Columbia police have confirmed to reporters an investigation was launched after a young woman filed a complaint.

According to reports broadcast Friday on cable news channels in Seoul, the complaint states that Yoon, at a Washington hotel, allegedly grabbed the buttocks of a 21-year-old embassy intern, a U.S. citizen, who had been assigned to assist him during the presidential visit.

A group of opposition female lawmakers in Seoul released a statement contending police in Washington asked Yoon to stay in his hotel while they contacted the South Korean embassy, but that he went to the airport and left the country.

The governing Saenuri Party's spokeswoman, Min Hyun-joo, who is a lawmaker, is praising the administration for being quickly transparent about the incident.

Min, on behalf of the party, expresses “strong regret.” She says if the sexual abuse allegations are true this is inexcusable and that Yoon should accept responsibility for his behavior.

Yoon, before joining Ms. Park's presidential transition team after her election victory last year, was a veteran journalist known for his staunch conservative views and biting comments attacking opponents on the left.

Briefing reporters traveling with President Park in Los Angeles, an administration official said Yoon was dismissed for “inappropriate conduct as a high-ranking official, damaging the dignity of the country by being involved in a disgraceful event.”

It is the latest setback for Park's administration.

Amid political wrangling, six of her Cabinet nominees had to quit. They had faced varying accusations by opposition lawmakers and the media, including tax evasion, real estate speculation, bribery, links to weapons brokers, and sex being exchanged for favors.

Park is the daughter of a former president. Her father, Park Chung-hee, as an army general, led a 1961 coup and ruled until 1979 when he was assassinated by his intelligence chief.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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