South Korea's presidential front runner calls for unity

PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL - The South Korean politician likely to emerge as the next president promised justice and common sense yesterday.

Leading in opinion polls to succeed Ms Park Geun Hye, Mr Moon Jae In is a liberal politician who advocates reconciliation with North Korea.

The Constitutional Court ruled on Friday to uphold a parliamentary vote to impeach Ms Park, dismissing her from office over an influence-peddling scandal that has shaken the country's political and business elite.

Ms Park, 65, is South Korea's first democratically elected leader to be forced from office.

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She left the presidential Blue House yesterday and returned to her private residence in southern Seoul.

A presidential election will be held by May 9, Reuters reported.

Mr Moon told a news conference yesterday: "We still have a long way to go. We have to make this a country of justice, of common sense through regime change.

"We all have to work together for a complete victory."

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Mr Moon, the former Democratic Party leader, enjoys 36 per cent of popular support.

He said: "If the power of candlelight has brought us this far, we now have to work together for a complete victory."

He was referring to weekly candlelit vigils that called for Ms Park's ouster, AFP reported.

CRITICAL

Mr Moon has criticised two former conservative presidents - Ms Park and her predecessor, Mr Lee Myung Bak - for derailing the progress made in inter-Korean relations during the previous liberal administrations.

He calls for a "two-step" approach on North Korea, with talks leading first to "economic unification" and ultimately "political and military unification".

Read Also: What next after South Korea's presidential impeachment?

He stressed the need to "embrace and be united with" the North Korean people, while adding that he could never accept its "dictatorial regime", nor its trampling of rights.

Mr Moon denounced the North's "cruel and ruthless behaviour" in the wake of the murder in Malaysia last month of Mr Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

But he told a news conference there was no choice but to recognise the latter as leader.

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.

"We can't deny that the ruler of the North Korean people is Kim Jong Un.

"We have no choice but to recognise Kim Jong Un as a counterpart, whether we put pressure and impose sanctions on North Korea or hold dialogue," said Mr Moon.

A conciliatory line might face opposition from Seoul's main ally, the United States, where President Donald Trump's aides are pressing to complete a strategy review on how to counter North Korea's missile and nuclear threats.

North Korea conducted two nuclear tests last year, as well as numerous missile launches, the latest on March 6 when it fired four ballistic missiles into the sea off Japan.

"If the power of candlelight has brought us this far, we now have to work together for a complete victory."


This article was first published on March 13, 2017.
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