Mass anti-Park protest in Seoul ahead of impeachment vote

PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL - Hundreds of thousands of protestors gathered in Seoul for the sixth-straight week Saturday to demand the ouster of scandal-hit President Park Geun-Hye ahead of an impeachment vote in parliament.

The latest in a series of massive anti-Park demonstrations in the South Korean capital came just hours after opposition parties filed an impeachment motion that will be put to a vote by MPs 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.

The ‘female Rasputin’ at centre of S Korean President Park Geun-Hye political scandal

  • South Korean President Park Geun-Hye is facing calls to resign over allegations she allowed a close personal friend to meddle in state affairs.
  • People watch a television news report showing South Korean President Park Geun-Hye making a public apology, at a railway station in Seoul on October 25, 2016.
  • South Korean President Park Geun-hye bows after releasing a statement of apology to the public during a news conference at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, October 25, 2016.
  • South Korea’s presidential office said on Saturday it was cooperating with prosecutors’investigation into key aides to President Park Geun-hye over allegations an old friend of hers enjoyed inappropriate influence over her.
  • Prosecutors’ request for presidential Blue House documents came ahead of an evening protest expected to draw thousands in central Seoul calling for Park’s resignation amid a scandal that has cast her presidency into crisis.
  • A woman attends a protest denouncing President Park Geun-hye over a recent influence-peddling scandal in central Seoul
  • Protestors hang a caricature showing South Korean President Park Geun-Hye (L) and her confidante Choi Soon-Sil (C), on a board during a rally denouncing a scandal over President Park's aide in Seoul on October 27, 2016.
  • South Korean prosecutors on October 27 set up a high-powered "task-force" to probe a widening scandal involving alleged influence-peddling by a close confidante of President Park Geun-Hye. Choi Soon-Sil, an enigmatic woman with no government position, was already part of an investigation into allegations that she used her relationship with the president to strong-arm conglomerates into multi-million dollar donations to two non-profit foundations.
  • Park’s office said late on Friday she had ordered her senior secretaries to tender their resignations, and she will reshuffle the office in the near future. Her chief of staff separately offered to resign earlier, the office said.
  • The deepening crisis over allegations that Park’s friend, Choi Soon-sil, enjoyed inappropriate influence over her has sent her public support to an all-time low, with more than 40 percent in an opinion poll saying Park should resign or be impeached.

The only real questions that remain are precisely when she will go, and whether she will step down or be removed.

The protestors who have taken to the streets in their millions in recent weeks want her out immediately, but the political establishment is struggling to find a similar unity of purpose.

The impeachment motion introduced in the early hours of Saturday 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 had 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 now 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 - much to the opposition's annoyance.

"If the motion fails to pass due to a lack of co-operation from the ruling party, it must take responsibility for all the consequences", the main opposition Democratic Party's floor leader Woo Sang-Ho said.

The prospect of an April departure for Park will do little to assuage the widespread public anger that has driven the mass protests in Seoul and other cities.

"Park is lying when she said she would step down voluntarily. Impeachment is the only option left for stripping her of the office," said Goh Du-Hwan, a 45-year-old accountant.

Goh was among hundreds of activists who gathered for an early protest outside the Saenuri Party headquarters ahead of Saturday's mass rally.

Tens of thousands of South Koreans stage protest in Seoul calling for President Park Geun Hye to resign

  • Tens of thousands of unionized workers staged a general strike and students boycotted classes Wednesday, upping pressure on President Park Geun-hye to resign.
  • Demanding the president's immediate resignation, civic groups, the workers and students vowed to hold a large-scale rally Saturday.
  • An association of 500 civic groups declared Wednesday as "a day of citizens' resistance," staging rallies in front of City Hall in central Seoul and in major cities from 3 p.m. More universities also joined a boycott of classes to ramp up pressure on Park.
  • "Ignoring people's calls for an immediate resignation, Park shifted responsibility (for her resignation) to the parliament," Choi Jong-jin, acting chief of the nation's second-largest umbrella labour union KCTU, said during the rally in central Seoul.
  • Some 220,000 workers from the public transport, public service, construction and education industries under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions joined the partial strike by taking a day off or leaving work early.
  • Students from 17 universities, including Sookmyung Women's University, Sogang University and Korea University, began to boycott their classes Friday. A few more schools including Seoul National University and Kookmin University joined the boycott Wednesday. Incheon University, Inha University and Pusan National University will join the move from Thursday.
  • Starting at 4 p.m., some 20,000 laborers marched across central Seoul and stopped at the headquarters of major conglomerates including Samsung, SK, Lotte, GS and Hanhwa, which are suspected of contributing money to the K-Sports and Mir foundations set up and run by Park's close confidante Choi Soon-sil.
  • The rally organizers initially planned to march to a fountain only 100 meters away from the presidential office, but the police blocked their plan, citing traffic disruption.
  • The sixth anti-Park rally will be held Saturday at Gwanghwamun Square. As with last Saturday's rally, organizers said some 100,000 participants will completely surround the presidential office from several locations starting from 4 pm.
  • Tens of thousands of South Koreans protested in central Seoul on Saturday (Nov 5) in one the largest demonstrations in the country's capital for years, calling on embattled President Park Geun Hye to resign over a growing influence-peddling scandal.
  • Roughly 43,000 people were at the candle-lit rally early on Saturday (Nov 5) evening, according to police. Organisers said a growing crowd of 100,000 had assembled, making the protest one of the biggest since demonstrations in 2008 against US beef imports.
  • Park Geun Hye has been rocked by a scandal involving an old friend who is alleged to have used her closeness to the president to meddle in state affairs. Ms Park has pledged to cooperate with prosecutors in an investigation.
  • Koreans have been angered by the revelations and say Ms Park, the latest South Korean leader to be embroiled in a scandal involving family or friends, has betrayed public trust and mismanaged her government.
  • Her approval rating has slipped to just 5 per cent according to a Gallup poll released on Friday (Nov 4), the lowest number for a South Korean president since such polling began in 1988.
  • Police said they had deployed 17,600 officers and 220 units including buses and mobile barriers to Saturday's protest. Police in riot gear lined the alleys and streets leading to the presidential Blue House as the main body of the demonstration began the march through central Seoul.
  • Ms Park has sacked many of her immediate advisers over the crisis. A former aide, Jeong Ho Seong, was arrested on Thursday (Nov 3) on suspicion of leaking classified information, a prosecution official told Reuters.
  • No South Korean president has ever failed to finish their five-year term, but Ms Park has faced growing pressure from the public and political opponents to quit.
  • "Even though we're just students, we feel like we can't put up with this unreasonable society anymore so we're participating in this protest with like-minded friends," said Mr Byun Woo Hyuk, an 18-year-old high school student holding a banner calling on the president to resign.

"I don't regard Park as our president any more. She must go now," added Chung Do-Sook, 54, a former English instructor.

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, with no guarantee of how the bench would rule.

The only other impeachment was of then-president Roh Moo-Hyun in 2004. On that occasion, the court rejected the motion and there was a strong public backlash against those who supported it.

Saturday's main demonstration was set to culminate - as on previous Saturdays - in a candlelit march in the direction of the presidential Blue House.

Police said they had deployed around 20,000 officers to control the event.

A similar rally the previous week drew what organisers claimed was a record 1.5 million people. Police put the turnout at 270,000.

The scandal that has engulfed Park and paralysed 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 US$70 million (S$99.3 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.

 

 

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