Park Geun-hye

Protesters pack South Korean capital to demand scandal-hit President Park Geun-hye quit

Organisers said about 200,000 people turned up, but the police ­estimate was a far more conservative 45,000

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 November, 2016, 3:37pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 November, 2016, 10:19am

Tens of thousands of South Koreans poured into the streets of downtown Seoul yesterday, using words ­including “treason” and “criminal” to demand that President Park Geun-hye step down amid an explosive political scandal.

The protest, the largest anti-government demonstration in the capital in nearly a year, came a day after Park apologised on live television amid rising suspicion that she allowed a mysterious confidante to manipulate power from the shadows.

Holding banners, candles and colourful signs that read “Park ­Geun-hye out” and “Treason by

a secret government”, a sea of demonstrators filled a large square in front of an old palace gate and the nearby streets, singing and thunderously applauding speeches calling for the ouster of the increasingly unpopular president. They were watched over by around 20,000 police officers.

They then shifted into a slow march in streets around City Hall, shouting “Arrest Park Geun-hye”, “Step down, criminal” and “We can’t take this any longer”.

“Park should squarely face the prosecution’s investigation and step down herself. If she doesn’t, politicians should move to impeach her,” said Kim Seo-yeon, one of the many ­college ­students who participated in the protest. “She absolutely lost all authority as president.”

Earlier in the week, prosecutors arrested Choi Soon-sil, the daughter of a late cult leader and a ­long-time friend of Park, and detained two former pres­idential aides over allegations that they ­pressured businesses into giving US$70 million to two foun­dations Choi controlled. There are also allegations that Choi, despite having no government job, reg­ularly received classified information and meddled in various state affairs.

“I came out today because this is not the country I want to pass on to my children,” said another demonstrator, Choi Kyung-ha. “My kids have asked me who Choi Soon-sil was and whether she’s

the real president, and I couldn’t provide an answer.”

Police used dozens of buses and trucks to create tight ­perimeters in streets around the square in front of the palace gate to close off paths to the presidential office and residence.

Smaller protests have taken place in the past few weeks in Seoul and other cities amid growing calls for Park to step down. While ­several politicians have individ­ually called for Park to stand aside, opposition parties have yet to attempt a serious push for her ­resignation or impeachment in fear of negatively impacting next year’s presidential election.

“How many more astonishing things must happen before this country changes for the better?” said Park Won-soon, the opposition mayor of Seoul and a potential presidential candidate, vowing to push for the pres­ident’s resignation.

Park has 15 months left in her term. If she resigns before the end of it, South Korean laws require the country to hold an election to pick a new president within 60 days.