S. Korea protests switch focus to impeachment court

This file photo taken on November 19, 2016 shows a protester holding a placard showing a portrait of South Korea's President Park Geun-Hye during an anti-government rally in central Seoul.
PHOTO: AFP

Seoul - Protesters began gathering in the streets of Seoul for the eighth straight week Saturday, pushing their demands for the swift and permanent removal of impeached South Korean President Park Geun-Hye.

Organisers said the mass rally would march on the Constitutional Court whose nine justices are considering the validity of the impeachment bill passed by the national assembly more than a week ago.

The court has 180 days to make a ruling, but the protesters are pressing for a swift judgement.

Although Park has been stripped of her substantial executive powers, she is allowed to retain the title of president and continue to live in the presidential Blue House while the court deliberates.

The protesters are adamant that she should resign immediately and face criminal prosecution.

A banner bearing images of South Korean President Park Geun-hye and her father, the late South Korean former military dictator Park Chung-hee, is seen as they attend a protest opposing her impeachment near the constitutional court in Seoul. Photo: Reuters

But Park still has her supporters, many of them elderly voters who remain steadfast admirers of her father, the late military dictator Park Chung-Hee - credited as the architect of the South's economic transformation but vilified as an authoritarian rights abuser.

Several thousand Park loyalists attended their own rally near the court earlier in the day to demand the impeachment bill be thrown out.

Waving national flags and clutching red roses they carried banners denouncing the anti-Park protests as a leftist conspiracy.

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.

On Friday, Park's legal team formally submitted a 24-page rebuttal of the impeachment charges to the court, arguing that they had no legal basis.

"We can't accept that there was any violation of the constitution by the president... the impeachment motion should be rejected," one of her lawyers, Lee Joong-Hwan, told reporters.

Park was impeached on numerous counts of constitutional and criminal violations ranging from a failure to protect people's lives to bribery and abuse of power.

Most of the charges stemmed from an investigation into a scandal involving the president's long-time friend, Choi Soon-Sil, who is currently awaiting trial for fraud and embezzlement.

Prosecutors named Park a suspect in the case - a first for a sitting president - saying she colluded in Choi's efforts to strong-arm donations from large companies worth tens of millions of dollars.

The impeachment process was ignited and fuelled by public outrage at Park's behaviour, with the weekly mass demonstrations demanding that politicians take a proactive role in removing her from the presidential Blue House.

The National Assembly has played its part, but the country now faces a lengthy period of uncertainty at a time of slowing economic growth and elevated military tensions with nuclear-armed North Korea.

The man charged with steering the country through these dangerous waters is a former prosecutor who has never held elected office.

As Park's prime minister, Hwang Kyo-Ahn became the temporary guardian of her sweeping executive powers the moment after she was impeached.

The protesters have called on him to resign as well, arguing that he is too tainted by his association with the president to wield her authority.

The mass rallies, some of which drew crowds of more than one million people, have been passionate but good-natured so far, with no clashes despite a heavy police presence

S Korea President Park Geun-hye may have undergone various anti-aging medical procedures

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