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Embattled South Korean President Faces New Scandal - 2003-10-16

South Korea's political scandal widened on Thursday, with the arrest President Roh Moo-hyun's former aide. This is the latest setback this month for the embattled president as he faces a crisis of confidence in his eight-month-old leadership.

Prosecutors arrested former presidential secretary Choi Do-sul Thursday in Seoul on charges of bribery and political fundraising violations.

Mr. Choi is suspected of taking nearly $1 million in bribes from the SK Group, South Korea's third largest conglomerate, just a week after Mr. Roh won the presidential election in December.

Critics of the Roh Administration are calling for investigators to also look into allegations Mr. Choi accepted money from other firms in exchange for favors.

Prosecutors are probing whether the SK group bought off other politicians -both in the ruling and opposition parties.

Mr. Choi denies any wrongdoing and there is, so far no, evidence that President Roh was involved.

But the arrest brings added pressure to the president - who has been criticized by the media, the opposition and members of his own party for corruption scandals and his handling of major policy issues and the economy.

Korea University professor, Lee Nae-young, says this arrest will inflict damage.

"All the political establishment of South Korea will be hurt by investigation," he said. "But President's Roh's government maybe will be hurt more than other party because his major political capital is morality."

Mr. Roh is feeling the pressure. Just Monday, he called for an unprecedented referendum on his performance. He says he needs a public mandate in order to be able to lead South Korea. If he fails to get a vote of confidence in the proposed December vote, he says hewill resign after less than a year in office.

Since the stunning presidential announcement, three political parties - including the Millennium Democratic Party, which put Mr. Roh in office - have vowed to oppose the referendum, calling it unconstitutional.

Some in the opposition want to oust the president, possibly by impeachment.

About 40 left wing loyalists in the National Assembly on Thursday said they would fight to keep Mr. Roh in office, supporting the referendum plan.