Sixth 'Resignation Rally' against President Park Grows to Biggest Yet
SEOUL, Dec. 3 (Yonhap) -- A record number of people took to the streets in central Seoul and across the country on Saturday to call for President Park Geun-hye's resignation in the latest rally underscoring public anger over the influence-peddling scandal involving her confidante, with some protesters marching up to 100 meters from the presidential office.
For the sixth straight weekend, Gwanghwamun Square and nearby areas were occupied by a large number of citizens who demanded Park to step down from her post following allegations that her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil exerted power over state affairs. She is also suspected of using her ties with Park for financial gains.
Rally organizers, from some 1,500 liberal and progressive civic groups, claimed a record-high 1.7 million joined the protest in Seoul as of 9:30 p.m., which is 200,000 more than last week.
Police, on the other hand, estimated about 320,000 participants were present in Seoul as of 7:10 p.m. This is also the largest number that law enforcement authorities have tallied for such a gathering.
The organizers said their estimates include those who joined the rally and left the scene, while police said they counted those who were actually on the streets at a moment when the rally took place.
Throughout the country, organizers claimed some 2.32 million joined in calling for Park's resignation. Last week, the organizers said 1.9 million participated in the rally across the nation.
The police said there has been no significant collisions or arrests taking place so far. They deployed some 25,000 officers to deal with traffic control and any problems that may arise due to the demonstration.
Protesters were allowed to march close to the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae from 1:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. after a local court eased the weekend restriction. The court, moreover, ruled that protesters could be allowed within 200 meters of the presidential office from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. throughout December on weekdays.'
"I decided to come out to the streets because I just can't tolerate it anymore," said Shin Eun-sook, an office worker in Seoul who participated in a rally for the first time. "I want Park to resign immediately, so that people don't have to come out here in the future."
At 7:00 p.m., participants staged a blackout by putting out their candles for one minute, with ordinary citizens at home or in offices being asked to turn off their lights.
The organizers said that the lights-out event was a symbol of protest against Park's whereabouts during the Sewol ferry accident that took place on April 16, 2014. Despite Cheong Wa Dae's repeated denials, allegations have continued to dog Park that she was absent from her office for some seven hours during the sinking of the Sewol ferry, which left more than 300 passengers, mostly young students, dead or missing.
Also at 7:00 p.m., some citizens launched a cyberattack on the Cheong Wa Dae website that caused a slowdown in access connection, but no significant disruptions were reported. Police had earlier warned that carrying out so-called distributed denial-of-service attacks are illegal.'
The latest rally comes on the day that South Korea's three opposition parties handed in an impeachment motion against Park for her suspected violations of the Constitution. A total of 171 lawmakers supported the motion, which accounts for every member of the opposition parties and independents, excluding the parliamentary speaker.
The motion will officially be proposed during a regular parliamentary session on Thursday, with the vote to take place on Friday.
The successful passage of an impeachment motion calls for approval from 200 of the 300 lawmakers in the National Assembly. At least 28 Saenuri members must support the motion even if every opposition and independent lawmaker votes for impeachment.
Before the main rally was staged in central Seoul, some 20,000 citizens protested in front of the Saenuri headquarters in Yeouido, western Seoul, calling for the ruling party to actively impeach Park, according to the rally organizers.
Park loyalists in Saenuri have been opposing the impeachment motion and argued for the president to step down voluntarily by late April. Observers have been speculating that even lawmakers critical of Park in the past may not vote for the motion by the opposition especially since Saenuri already passed a resolution supported by all its members outlining a timetable for Park's resignation and transfer of power.
The presidential office rejected all allegations of wrongdoing involving Park, claiming that the media coverage is biased and based on unfounded rumors. It has repeatedly called on the press to make reports based on facts and not rumors.
Park said earlier in the week that she will shed more light on the charges leveled against her in the near future. Despite making three national addresses since late October, the president has never given her view on the situation, other than to hint that she had misplaced her trust in those closest to her.
Candlelight rallies also took place at 26 locations throughout the nation, including cities like Busan, Daegu and Incheon.
Meanwhile, a separate gathering of Park supporters also converged at Dongdaemun Design Plaza in eastern Seoul and Yeouido earlier in the day to rally around Park.
"Parksamo," a local fan club of the president that had staunchly supported Park and other conservative groups, claimed some 30,000 people gathered to protest the "witch hunt" under way by opposition parties and left-leaning civic groups that had always opposed the president.
Participants of this rally argued that the political motivations by progressives were intentionally fueling the protests, and that those calling for Park's ouster were making wild, unfounded accusations.
"The anti-Park protests being staged in downtown Seoul do not reflect the whole country and calling for Park to step down prematurely is in violation of the rule of law," a protester at the rally stressed. "Nothing has been proven in the court of law, yet people assume that Park is guilty of wrongdoing. This is unjust and unfair."
Others accused the media of perpetuating lies spread by opponents of Park and said the opposition politicians are blowing the scandal out of proportion so they can win the next presidential race.'
Sources said Park is watching the rally on TV at the presidential office, with her aides holding meetings to discuss developments. Since the first massive rally was held in late October, high-ranking officials at Cheong Wa Dae have been also working on weekends.
Han Gwang-ok, who was appointed Park's chief of staff early this month, reportedly told officials earlier in the day they should keep close tabs on the protest and make sure the rallies are managed without any incidents.