Protest demands S. Korea’s president quit over scandal
Seoul, South Korea — Tens of thousands of South Koreans poured into the streets of downtown Seoul on Saturday, using words including “treason” and “criminal” to demand that President Park Geun-hye step down amid an explosive political scandal.
The largest anti-government demonstration in the capital in nearly a year came a day after Park apologized on live television following 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 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,” before moving back to the square and cheering on more speeches that continued into the night.
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, despite having no government job, regularly received classified information and meddled in various state affairs, including the appointment of ministers and policy decisions.
“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.”
Choi Kyung-ha, a mother of three, said her children asked her who Choi was “and whether she’s the real president, and I couldn’t provide an answer.”
Police estimated the crowd at 45,000, although protest organizers said about 200,000 people turned out.
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 Park’s resignation.
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.
In Friday’s televised apology, the conservative president promised 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.
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.
Opposition parties, sensing weakness, immediately threatened to push for her ouster if she doesn’t distance herself from domestic affairsand 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, an election must be held within 60 days.