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Dublin: 3°C Monday 25 January 2021

Hundreds of thousands protest against president in South Korea capital

The demonstration may be South Korea’s largest protest since it shook off dictatorship three decades ago.

South Korea Politics South Korean people shout slogans as they carry placards reading 'Park Geun-Hye Out', during a protest against South Korean President Park Geun-Hye on a main street in Seoul, South Korea. Source: JEON HEON-KYUN/POOL

HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of people flooded Seoul’s streets today demanding the resignation of President Park Geun-hye amid an explosive political scandal.

The demonstration may be South Korea’s largest protest since it shook off dictatorship three decades ago.

Police said about 220,000 people turned out for the latest mass rally against Park, whose presidency has been shaken by suspicion that she let a shadowy longtime confidante manipulate power from behind the scenes.

Protest organisers estimated the crowd at 850,000.

Waving banners and signs, a sea of demonstrators jammed streets stretching about a kilometer from City Hall to a large square in front of an old palace gate for several hours, roaring and applauding to speeches calling for Park’s ouster, and chanting “Park Geun-hye, step down!”

Protesters also marched on a road in front of the palace gate and near the Blue House, the mountainside presidential office and residence, carrying candles, blowing horns and banging drums, while shouting “Park Geun-hye, resign!”

South Korea Politics Source: Ahn Young-joon

Despite rising public anger, opposition parties have yet to seriously push for Park’s resignation or impeachment over fears of triggering a backlash from conservative voters and negatively impacting next year’s presidential race.

However, they have threatened to campaign for Park’s resignation if she doesn’t distance herself from state affairs.

The protest today was the largest in the capital since 10 June, 2008, when police said 80,000 people took part in a candlelight vigil denouncing the government’s decision to resume US beef imports amid mad cow fears.

Organisers estimated that crowd at 700,000.

In the summer of 1987, millions rallied in Seoul and other cities for weeks before the then-military government caved in to demands for free presidential elections.

Train and express bus tickets to Seoul were difficult to get from some areas yesterday evening and this morning, with the protest reportedly drawing tens of thousands of people from other cities.

South Korea Politics Source: AP

“I have never been interested in politics and I don’t even have a TV at home,” said Cho Jong-gyu, who took a five-hour bus ride from the small southern island of Geoje to participate in the rally.

But unbelievable things have been happening and I came out today because I didn’t want to feel defeated as a South Korean citizen.

Lee Ryeo-hwa, a Seoul resident who brought her three children to the rally, said Park had to go because she “created this mess with her undemocratic leadership style and refusal to communicate”.

People said it was a bad idea to bring my kids here, but I want them to remember today… and learn that democracies are built on participation.

Exploiting ties

In addition to allegedly manipulating power, the president’s confidante, Choi Soon-sil, is also suspected of exploiting her presidential ties to bully companies into donating tens of millions of dollars to foundations she controlled.

South Korea Politics Source: AP

Choi Soon-sil the daughter of a late cult leader who emerged as Park’s mentor in the 1970s.

In an attempt to stabilise the situation, Park said earlier this week that she would let the opposition-controlled parliament choose her prime minister.

But opposition parties say her words are meaningless without specific promises about transferring much of her presidential powers to a new No 2.

Moon Jae-in, a lawmaker from the main opposition Minjoo Party who lost to Park in the 2012 presidential election, has even demanded that Park surrender her authority to command South Korea’s military.

The opposition is also demanding a separate investigation into the scandal by a special prosecutor.

Prosecutors have arrested Choi, one of her key associates and two former presidential aides who allegedly helped Choi interfere with government decisions and amass an illicit fortune at the expense of businesses.

There is also a possibility that prosecutors will eventually investigate Park, who in a televised apology last week said she would accept a direct investigation into her actions.

Under South Korean law, the president has immunity from prosecution except in cases of treason, but she can be investigated.

Park has 15 months left in her term. If she steps down before the end of it, an election must be held within 60 days.

Read: North Korea calls South Korean president a ‘dirty prostitute’

Read: North Korea launches three ballistic missiles as world leaders meet at G20

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Associated Press

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