Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn on Friday refused to clarify his stance on the politically-charged issue of extending special prosecutors' corruption probe into President Park Geun-hye, saying it is not the time yet to consider it.
Hwang made the remarks during a parliamentary interpellation session amid growing calls from opposition parties to extend Independent Counsel Park Young-soo's probe that expires on Feb. 28. The investigation period can be extended once by a month with Hwang's consent.
"At the current stage, we are not in a situation where we have to consider an extension (of the probe)," he said. "As you know, special prosecutors still have some 20 days left and that is a considerable (amount) of time."
Hwang also pressured the special prosecutors to do their utmost to carry out the probe.
"If (special prosecutors) have already been thinking of an extension, it might mean that they are not thinking of working hard in the remaining 20 days (before the end of the probe period)," Hwang said.
The main opposition Democratic Party, its splinter People's Party and the minor far-left Justice Party have collectively demanded the acting president consent to the extension. Some opposition lawmakers have threatened to push for legislation to extend the probe.
The independent counsel team has said that it is "positively" considering pursuing an extension of their probe. The team formally launched a 70-day probe in the scandal involving the president and her friend on Dec. 21.
During the parliamentary session, Hwang also sidestepped the question about whether he is eyeing a presidential bid, reiterating that his priority for now is on stabilizing state affairs that have been hamstrung by the scandal.
"I have been doing my utmost to carry out duties that I have been entrusted with, and I have no other thoughts on my mind," he said.
After former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon renounced his presidential ambitions on Feb. 1, Hwang has been touted as a potential standard-bearer of the conservative bloc for the presidential election this year.
The poll, conducted by local pollster Gallup Korea from Tuesday to Thursday, found that Hwang ranked third with 11 percent support, trailing Moon Jae-in, a former leader of the Democratic Party, with 29 percent and South Chungcheong Gov. An Hee-jung with 19 percent. (Yonhap)