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Park Geun-hye

South Koreans demand president’s removal on New Year’s Eve

Hundreds of thousands were expected to participate in the evening marches near Seoul’s presidential palace and the constitutional court while Park’s supporters rally in nearby streets

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 December, 2016, 5:42pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 December, 2016, 10:31pm

Even on New Year’s Eve, large crowds of South Koreans gathered to join another rally demanding the ouster of impeached President Park Geun-hye, who’s determined to restore her powers through a court trial.

Carrying signs and candles and blowing horns, people packed a boulevard in front of an old palace gate that has been the center of massive but peaceful protests in recent weeks. Marches were planned near Seoul’s presidential palace and the Constitutional Court.

Park’s supporters rallied in nearby streets, surrounded by thick lines of police.

The court has up to six months to decide whether Park should permanently step down over a corruption scandal or be reinstated. The judges said on Friday that Park cannot be forced to testify in the impeachment trial as it enters its argument phase next week.

Protest organisers estimate nearly nine million people took part in anti-Park rallies nationwide in the previous nine Saturdays. The historically biggest protest movement in the country pushed lawmakers to vote for Park’s impeachment on December 9.

State prosecutors have accused Park of colluding with a long-time confidante to extort money and favours from the country’s largest companies and allowing the friend to manipulate her administration. Park has apologised for putting faith in her jailed friend, Choi Soon-sil, but has denied any legal wrongdoing.

Choi Soon-sil has shown us that our democracy was shattered. I hope in 2017 we will see our democracy repaired
Lee Hae-jin, protester

“Choi Soon-sil has shown us that our democracy was shattered,” said Lee Hae-jin, who protested for the 10th consecutive Saturday in Seoul, carrying a large South Korean flag and wearing black traditional hanbok and a black dance mask that he said was a commentary on the state of the country’s democracy.

“I hope in 2017 we will see our democracy repaired,” Lee said.

State prosecutors have now handed over the investigation to a special prosecution team, which has been focusing on proving bribery suspicions between Park and the Samsung Group. The business giant is suspected of sponsoring Choi in exchange for government favours.

Moon Hyung-pyo, the country’s former health minister, was arrested early Saturday over allegations that he forced the National Pension Service last year to support a merger between two Samsung affiliates last year.

The Seoul Central District Court issued a warrant for his arrest after reviewing evidence provided by a special prosecutor, Yonhap news agency said.

Moon was taken into emergency detention on Wednesday on allegations that he pressured the fund to vote in favour of the merger between Cheil Industries and Samsung C&T last year.

The acquisition was seen as a crucial step to ensure a smooth father-to-son power transfer to Lee Jae-Yong, scion of Samsung’s founding family.

Critics said it undervalued Samsung C&T stock but NPS – the world’s third largest public pension fund and a major Samsung shareholder – backed the deal, allegedly incurring hundreds of millions of dollars in losses for NPS subscribers.

Investigators reportedly plan to question Lee next month to determine whether he told Samsung Electronics executives to funnel millions of dollars into dubious foundations and companies controlled by Choi in return for NPS’ backing.

Lee said at a parliamentary hearing this month that he was not aware of the money transfers.

Investigators also detained a literature professor from Ewha Womans University as they look into suspicions that the prestigious Seoul school manipulated its admission process to accept Choi’s daughter, Yoora Chung, and after ward provided her academic favours.

The professor, Ryu Cheol-gyun, is a famous novelist who in 1997 wrote a story critics saw as glorifying Park’s father, slain military dictator Park Chung-hee, whose legacy as a successful economic strategist is marred by violent records of civilian oppression.

Investigators are also looking into allegations that Park’s administration blacklisted thousands of artists for their political beliefs.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse, Reuters