Thou­sands in South Korea call for pres­i­dent to quit ‘Trea­son by a se­cret gov­ern­ment’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

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 Ge­un­hye 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 apol­o­gized on live tele­vi­sion amid ris­ing sus­pi­cion that she al­lowed a mys­te­ri­ous con­fi­dante to ma­nip­u­late power from the shad­ows.

Hold­ing ban­ners, can­dles and col­or­ful 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 then shifted into a slow march in streets around City Hall, shout­ing “Ar­rest Park Ge­un­hye,” “Step down, crim­i­nal” and “We can’t take this any longer,” be­fore mov­ing back to the square and cheer­ing on more speeches that con­tin­ued into the night.

“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 over the past few weeks,” he said. Ear­lier in the week, pros­e­cu­tors ar­rested Choi Soon-sil, the daugh­ter of a late cult leader and a long­time friend of Park, and de­tained two for­mer pres­i­den­tial aides over al­le­ga­tions that they pres­sured busi­nesses into giv­ing $70 mil­lion to two foun­da­tions Choi con­trolled.

‘I can­not bear this any­more’

There are also al­le­ga­tions that Choi, de­spite hav­ing no gov­ern­ment job, reg­u­larly re­ceived clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion and med­dled in var­i­ous state af­fairs, in­clud­ing the ap­point­ment of min­is­ters and pol­icy de­ci­sions. “I came out to­day be­cause this is not the coun­try I want to pass on to my chil­dren,” said an­other demon­stra­tor, Choi Kyung-ha, a mother of three. “My kids have asked me who Choi Soon-sil was and whether she’s the real pres­i­dent, and I couldn’t pro­vide an an­swer.” Choi Tae-poong, a 57-year-old re­tiree, said he came out to protest be­cause he thought the sit­u­a­tion had reached a point where “no more pa­tience is al­lowed.” “I can­not bear this any­more,” he said.

Po­lice es­ti­mated the crowd at around 43,000, al­though protest or­ga­niz­ers said about 130,000 peo­ple turned out. 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. Thou­sands of of­fi­cers dressed in flu­o­res­cent yel­low jack­ets and full riot gear stood in front of and be­tween the ve­hi­cles as they closely mon­i­tored the protesters. 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’s ouster, 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.

Pres­i­dent Park has tried to sta­bi­lize the sit­u­a­tion by fir­ing eight aides and nom­i­nat­ing three new top Cab­i­net of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the prime min­is­ter, but op­po­si­tion par­ties have de­scribed her per­son­nel reshuf­fles as a di­ver­sion­ary tac­tic. One na­tional poll re­leased Fri­day had Park’s ap­proval rat­ing at 5 per­cent, the low­est for any pres­i­dent in South Korea since the coun­try achieved democ­racy in the late 1980s fol­low­ing decades of mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship.

In Fri­day’s tele­vised apol­ogy, Park com­mented on the cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions sur­round­ing Choi and her for­mer aides and vowed to ac­cept a di­rect in­ves­ti­ga­tion into her ac­tions, but avoided the more damn­ing al­le­ga­tion that Choi per­haps had in­ter­fered with im­por­tant gov­ern­ment de­ci­sions on pol­icy and per­son­nel. Op­po­si­tion par­ties, sens­ing weak­ness, im­me­di­ately threat­ened to push for her ouster if she doesn’t dis­tance her­self from do­mes­tic af­fairs and trans­fer the du­ties to a prime min­is­ter cho­sen by par­lia­ment. The par­ties have also called for a sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the scan­dal led by a spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor. 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. — AP

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