Mass protest de­mands ouster, ar­rest of S Korea pres­i­dent

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of pro­tes­tors marched in Seoul for the sixth-straight week yes­ter­day to de­mand the ouster and ar­rest of scan­dal-hit Pres­i­dent Park Geun-Hye ahead of an im­peach­ment vote in par­lia­ment. Or­ga­niz­ers claimed a turnout of 1.5 mil­lion for the can­dle­light rally in the South Korean cap­i­tal, while po­lice put the num­ber at 220,000. It was the lat­est in a se­ries of mas­sive anti-Park demon­stra­tions and came just hours af­ter op­po­si­tion par­ties filed an im­peach­ment mo­tion that will be put to a vote by law­mak­ers on Fri­day.

Whether the mo­tion is adopted or not, Park is firmly on course to be­come the first demo­crat­i­cally-elected South Korean pres­i­dent not to com­plete a full, five-year term. The 64-year-old stands ac­cused of col­lud­ing with an old friend who has been for­mally in­dicted for at­tempted fraud and abuse of power. Along with the now-nor­mal slo­gans for Park to step down, there were grow­ing calls at yes­ter­day’s rally for her to face crim­i­nal charges, ar­rest and im­pris­on­ment. Dozens of life­size card­board cut-outs of the pres­i­dent showed her wear­ing jail uni­form and bound by ropes.

While the pro­tes­tors want her out im­me­di­ately, the politi­cal es­tab­lish­ment is strug­gling to find a sim­i­lar unity of pur­pose. The im­peach­ment mo­tion in­tro­duced in the early hours of yes­ter­day morn­ing car­ried 171 sig­na­tures-ac­count­ing for ev­ery leg­is­la­tor from the three op­po­si­tion par­ties and in­de­pen­dents. In or­der to se­cure the two-thirds ma­jor­ity re­quired for im­peach­ment in the 300-seat na­tional assem­bly, it will need the sup­port of more than two-dozen law­mak­ers from Park’s rul­ing Saenuri Party.

Just a week ago, the back­ing of enough Saenuri rebels seemed as­sured, but a rather con­fused res­ig­na­tion of­fer by Park on Tues­day strength­ened the hand of her loy­al­ists who in­sist she be al­lowed to step down vol­un­tar­ily. The party has since pro­posed she re­sign in April-a time­line it jus­ti­fies as more con­ducive to a calm and steady prepa­ra­tion for an early pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Ob­servers say the Saenuri rebels are likely to fall in line with the pro­posal and vote against the mo­tion on Fri­day.

The prospect of an April de­par­ture for Park will do lit­tle to as­suage the pub­lic anger that has driven the mass street protests of re­cent weeks. “I no longer be­lieve a word the pres­i­dent or her party says,” said bank em­ployee Kim Hak-Won who was march­ing Satur­day with his teenage daugh­ter. “How can we tell our chil­dren to re­spect the law when our own pres­i­dent re­fuses to do so?” Kim said. And there was wide­spread anger with the Saenuri party over what were seen as its ef­forts to block the im­peach­ment process. “I am so full of rage right now, I could set fire to the party head­quar­ters,” said 30-year-old of­fice worker Park Sung-Jin.

But even if im­peach­ment were ap­proved by the assem­bly on Fri­day, Park would likely re­main in of­fice for some con­sid­er­able time. An adopted mo­tion would still re­quire ap­proval of the Con­sti­tu­tional Court a process that could take up to six months.

Yes­ter­day’s mass rally cul­mi­nated in a march to the pres­i­den­tial Blue House, led by 50 pro­tes­tors hold­ing flaming torches. Fol­low­ing a court or­der, po­lice al­lowed the marchers within 100 me­ters of the com­plex hous­ing Park’s res­i­dence and of­fices. As well as the huge crowd in Seoul, there were re­ports of large ral­lies else­where in­clud­ing 40,000 peo­ple in the south­east city of Daegu-con­sid­ered a staunch Park strong­hold.

The scan­dal that has en­gulfed Park and par­a­lyzed her ad­min­is­tra­tion has fo­cused on her friendship with long-time con­fi­dante Choi Soon-Sil. Choi has been charged with med­dling in state af­fairs and us­ing her Blue House con­nec­tions to force dozens of con­glom­er­ates to do­nate around $70 mil­lion to two foun­da­tions she con­trolled. In a first for a sit­ting South Korean pres­i­dent, Park has been named a “sus­pect” by pros­e­cu­tors in­ves­ti­gat­ing Choi. As pres­i­dent, Park can­not be charged with a crim­i­nal of­fence ex­cept in­sur­rec­tion or trea­son, but she would lose that im­mu­nity once she steps down. — AFP

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