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South Korea's President Refuses To Testify At Impeachment Trial Hearing

South Korean President Park Geun-hye spoke to reporters Sunday and denied allegations of corruption and abuse of power.

South Korea's beleaguered president, Park Geun-hye, refused to testify at her impeachment trial Tuesday, days after she publicly denied allegations of corruption.

The country's Constitutional Court was forced to delay the start of oral arguments because of Park's absence. She was asked to testify on Thursday, according to The Associated Press, when several of her current and former aides are scheduled to testify.

The AP says court "cannot force her to appear but can proceed without her if she refuses twice to appear at the hearings."

A lawyer for Park, Lee Joong-hwan, told reporters that the president wouldn't attend future hearings "unless there are special circumstances," South Korean news agency Yonhap reports.

"Citing law, he also said an impeachment trial is meant to proceed in the absence of the defendant," the news agency added.

Last month, South Korean lawmakers voted 234 to 56 to impeach Park. As NPR's Elise Hu has reported, prosecutors say Park "conspired in a multimillion-dollar extortion scheme, led by her close friend and spiritual adviser, Choi Soon-sil" and that Choi "enjoyed extraordinary power to make decisions in state affairs, despite holding no official position."

The court will decide whether to uphold the impeachment vote.

Elise reported last month that:

"Weeks of protests, with crowds numbering in the millions, added fuel to growing outrage over Park, who has served four years as president but is viewed as aloof and out of touch with the concerns of everyday Koreans. ...

"Opposition lawmakers were originally reluctant to bring up an impeachment measure, but after Park didn't step down on her own, her reluctance, coupled with swelling protests, spurred lawmakers to take action."

Park is immune from criminal charges while she remains in office. Speaking to reporters on Sunday, she denied the allegations of corruption and abuse of power.

However, Elise adds, "she has yet to answer questions of investigators and, now, the court. She admitted to allowing [Choi] to meddle in state affairs — and prosecutors believe the friend financially benefited as a result."

Following the Dec. 9 impeachment vote, the AP reports, the Constitutional Court has six months to decide whether Park should step down or be returned to office.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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