South Koreans hit the streets of Seoul
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”, the demonstrators, including many students, packed 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 toward the 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, a college student who participated in the march in the capital.
“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.
There are also allegations that Choi, who has no government job, regularly received classified information and meddled with 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 one of the demonstrators, 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.”
Police estimated the crowd at about 43,000, although protest organisers 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.
Park has tried to stabilise 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.
RALLYING CALL: Police estimated 43,000 turned out for the protest