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Thursday, September 21, 2023, 16:34
S. Korea lawmakers vote to pave way for opposition leader's arrest
By Reuters
Thursday, September 21, 2023, 16:34 By Reuters

South Korea's main opposition Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung speaks during a press conference on the topic of “Peace on the Korean Peninsula and Balanced Diplomacy” at the Seoul Foreign Correspondents' Club in Seoul on April 11, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)

SEOUL - South Korea's opposition-controlled parliament in a surprise move on Thursday voted to allow prosecutors to serve an arrest warrant against the main opposition leader who is facing an investigation into bribery and breach of duty charges.

The vote means Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung will face court to contest his arrest over the charges.

The motion was accepted by a margin of 149 to 136, with six abstained votes and four invalid in a secret ballot with 295 votes cast.

South Korea's  main opposition leader Lee Jae-myung is accused of asking a company to illegally transfer $8 million to North Korea when he was the governor of Gyeonggi province

Separately, parliament voted to dismiss Prime Minister Han Duck-soo for a slew of government policy failures including the deadly Halloween crush, inadequate response to heavy rains and flooding, and the much-criticised World Scout Jamboree.

It is the first time such a motion has passed against a prime minister in South Korea though it is not binding, however, and President Yoon Suk Yeol is expected to exercise his power to reject it.

ALSO READ: S. Korea opp leader hospitalized, prosecutors seek arrest

The Democratic Party's Lee was hospitalised on Monday while on a hunger strike protesting what he called policy failures by Yoon's government, including economic mismanagement and not doing enough to stop Japan's Fukushima wastewater release.

Members of parliament have immunity against arrest when the assembly is in session unless its members vote to rescind it with a simple majority. Lee's Democratic Party holds 167 seats in the 297-member parliament.

Lee is accused of asking a company to illegally transfer $8 million to North Korea when he was the governor of Gyeonggi province.

He is also accused of breaching his duty over losses of 20 billion won ($15 million) by a municipal development corporation during his time as mayor of the city of Seongnam.

Lee has denied any wrongdoing, calling the allegations "fiction" and a "political conspiracy".

He and many members of his party have criticised the investigations against him as a political witch hunt.

ALSO READ: S. Korean opp leader urges Japan PM to suspend wastewater plan

Lee narrowly lost to Yoon, a former chief prosecutor, in the presidential election last year.

On Wednesday, Lee urged lawmakers to vote against the motion and stop what he called "prosecution dictatorship" by the Yoon government in a social media post, despite having promised earlier not to use his parliamentary immunity.

"Over 300 raids have been conducted (by the prosecution). But nothing has come out," Lee said.

Lee was not present in the plenary session to vote. He has been on hunger strike since Aug 31. President Yoon is currently in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly.

South Korea's next parliamentary elections are scheduled for April next year.

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