South Korea dog row brews as Park Geun-hye faces questions

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Ms Park's dogs, seen here in a picture provided by the presidential office, are of the South Korean Jindo breed

Animal rights groups have accused impeached South Korean leader Park Geun-hye of abandoning her dogs when she left the presidential palace.

The row comes as Ms Park was called for questioning and named as a suspect in the wide-ranging corruption scandal that eventually led to her downfall.

She was dismissed from her post last week when the constitutional court upheld her impeachment.

South Korea will hold its presidential election on 9 May.

Ms Park is the country's first democratically elected leader to be ousted.

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Over the weekend Ms Park left the presidential palace, known as the Cheong Wa Dae, and moved into her house in an affluent district of Seoul.

Her nine Jindo dogs were not among the entourage that accompanied her.

The Busan Korea Alliance for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Busan Kapca) noted she could have violated animal protection laws by leaving the dogs behind.

The group, along with the Coexistence of Animal Rights on Earth (Care), claimed she had abandoned her pets, and both organisations offered to find new homes for the dogs.

Image source, Care / Facebook
Image caption,
Care put out a statement on its Facebook page noting that Ms Park had left behind her dogs at the palace

A Cheong Wa Dae spokesman denied she had abandoned her dogs, and told Reuters that they were left at the palace partly because it would not be good for them to be uprooted from their home.

"She told... staff to take good care of the dogs and to find good foster homes for the puppies if necessary," said the spokesman.

Ms Park was known to be fond of her pets, which had been dubbed the country's "First Dogs," reported Korea Times.

When Ms Park was inaugurated as president in 2013, she moved into Cheong Wa Dae with a pair of Jindo dogs which were given to her as a present.

The pair later produced several puppies, some of whom she kept while others were adopted. Jindo dogs are known for their loyalty and devotion.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Ms Park is seen here in a 2015 palace handout picture with her dogs

The country has been run by prime minister Hwang Kyo-ahn since parliament voted to impeach Ms Park in December.

The date for the next presidential election was set at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

At that meeting, Mr Hwang said he would not run in the election, dealing a blow to conservatives looking for viable candidates, reported Yonhap news agency.

Collusion accusation

Ms Park has also been summoned by prosecutors for questioning next Tuesday over her alleged involvement in the corruption scandal surrounding presidential aide Choi Soon-sil.

She is accused of colluding with Ms Choi in extorting large amounts of money and favours from conglomerates.

Ms Park has denied all accusations and refused previous requests to take part in investigations.

But without her presidential immunity, she may be forced to attend questioning if she refuses the summons this time round, reported Yonhap.

Why did Park lose her job?

At the heart of the drama lies the close friendship between the president and Ms Choi.

Ms Choi is accused of using her presidential connections to pressure companies to give millions of dollars in donations to non-profit foundations she controlled.

Ms Park is alleged to have been personally involved in this, and to have given Ms Choi unacceptable levels of access to official documents.

Parliament voted to impeach Ms Park in December.

On Friday, the Constitutional Court ruled Ms Park's actions "seriously impaired the spirit of... democracy and the rule of law".

Judges said she had broken the law by allowing Ms Choi to meddle in state affairs, and had breached guidelines on official secrets by leaking numerous documents.

Ms Park had "concealed completely Choi's meddling in state affairs and denied it whenever suspicions over the act emerged and even criticised those who raised the suspicions," the ruling said.