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Choi herself is no smooth operator with a PhD or MBA, but a shabby uneducated matron, lacking any degree. She is allegedly part of her father’s dubious church, or even a shaman: easy to portray as the wicked witch of the east. Park’s core supporters, the Christian right, were appalled. When a tablet PC of Choi’s, containing presidential speeches which she had edited, was discovered by a TV station, everything went ballistic. Stories, allegations and rumours spread thick and fast.

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Behind the gates of the presidential Blue House in central Seoul, guarded by battalions of riot police with hundreds of buses used to create mobile, bumper-to-bumper walls around the perimeter of the residence, South Korea’s first female president, Park Geun-hye, hunkers down in the eye of a storm, fighting for her political life.

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A Seoul court rejected on Saturday a prosecutor’s request for an arrest warrant for Chung Yoo-ra, the daughter of Choi Soon-sil who is at the heart of a massive influence-peddling scandal that led to the ouster of South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Yonhap news agency reported.

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Political and business corruption remains widespread in South Korea, which has had full democracy only since the late 1980s, when it shook off decades of military dictatorship. But the current scandal has struck a chord in a way that previous ones have not.

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South Korea, which achieved democracy after people-power protests in 1987, is periodically convulsed by mass demonstrations. In 1990, 2002 and 2008, protesters massed to make demands of (or demand the resignation of) the chief executive. And every Korean president enters a ‘lame duck’ period near the end of the single five-year term they are permitted. But the current protests are a phenomenon: Park is facing the biggest crowds seen since the heady, teargas-tinted days of 1987.

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It’s not clear how much influence Choi had. But many South Koreans believe there is much more to the story than Park has acknowledged, and the frenzy surrounding the scandal threatens her presidency.