Tens of thousands march in Seoul demanding South Korean President Park's resignation

SEOUL - Tens of thousands of men, women and children joined one of the largest anti-government protests seen in Seoul for decades on Saturday (Nov 12), demanding President Park Geun Hye's resignation over a snowballing corruption scandal.

Police had planned for 170,000 people, but organisers said they expected a final turnout of up to one million for what was the third in a series of weekly mass protests that have left Ms Park fighting for her political survival.

On the back of official appeals for calm, police deployed around 25,000 officers, many of them in full riot gear, while police buses and trucks blocked every access road - major or minor - around the presidential Blue House.

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.

As with the previous protests, the huge crowds were extremely mixed, with high school children rubbing shoulders with retirees and young couples marching with babies or young children.

"Park Geun Hye must resign because she didn't take good care of our country," said 11-year-old student Park Ye Na.

The steady beat of drums and chanted slogans made for a raucous but largely peaceful atmosphere, with banners everywhere mocking Ms Park and calling for her to step down immediately.

In a televised news conference on Friday (Nov 11), Deputy Prime Minister Lee Joon Sik had voiced concerns at the possibility of "illegal collective action or violence" and urged the protesters to respect police barriers.

The scandal engulfing Ms Park is focused on a close personal friend, Choi Soon Sil, who is currently under arrest on charges of fraud and abuse of power.

Prosecutors are investigating allegations that Choi, 60, leveraged their personal relationship to coerce donations from large companies like Samsung to non-profit foundations which she set up and used for personal gain.

She is also accused of interfering in government affairs, despite holding no official position.

Lurid reports of the unhealthy influence Choi wielded over Ms Park have seen the president's approval ratings plunge to record lows.

"We are feeling the weight of the serious public mood," presidential spokesman Jung Youn Kuk acknowledged on Friday.

In an effort to soothe public anger, Ms Park has issued several apologies, reshuffled top officials and even agreed to relinquish some of her extensive executive powers, but the popular calls for her to step down have been relentless.

"It was our wedding anniversary yesterday, but we cancelled our anniversary trip and came to Seoul because we thought it was more important for our daughter," said Mr Cho Joo Pyo, who was at the rally with his wife and their two-year-old.

Mr Cho's family had travelled from Jeonju, around 200km south of Seoul - one of tens of thousands who took trains or buses from towns and cities across the country to demonstrate.

One group of 1,000 protesters even flew in from the popular southern resort island of Jeju.

"I'm here to demand Park Geun Hye's resignation. Her apologies are meaningless. She needs to step down," said 66-year-old Cho Ki Mang.

It was set to be one of the biggest anti-government rallies since the pro-democracy protests of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

A protest in June 2008 against then-president Lee Myung Bak's decision to lift an import ban on US beef drew 80,000 people according to police, while organisers claimed 700,000 took part.

Most experts believe Ms Park, who has just over a year left of her single five-year term, will be able to ride out the crisis and remain in office, albeit with her authority and ability to govern seriously undermined.

Opposition lawmakers have largely avoided direct resignation calls and appear more interested in extracting further concessions from Ms Park in terms of devolving power to the legislature.

The candlelight rally began at 4pm (3pm Singapore time) at Seoul City Hall, with a plan to march along four different routes towards the Blue House.

A last minute court order removed some of the police road blocks, but the protesters were to be kept more than a kilometre away from Ms Park's official residence.