[UPDATES] Huge candle-lit rally demanding Park's resignation descends in central Seoul

Park Sae-jin Reporter Posted : 2016-11-12 18:37 Updated : 2016-11-12 20:12
글씨작게 글씨크게

South Korean citizens hold an anti-government rally demanding the resignation of President Park Geun-hye in central Seoul Saturday. [Photo by Park Sae-jin]

Hundreds of thousands of angry citizens held a huge candle-lit rally in central Seoul Saturday, calling for the resignation of scandal-stricken President Park Geun-hye, in one of the biggest anti-government protests in South Korea's modern history.

The avenue and its side streets leading to the presidential mansion were packed with opposition politicians, activists, citizens, housewives and even high school students. Some carried anti-government placards demanding Park's fall.

Three middle school students hold up placards demanding President Park Geun-hye's resignation. [Photo by Park Sae-jin ]

It was the biggest anti-government rally for decades. Police said the rally drew about 250,000 people while organizers put the number of participants at more than 800,000.

The rally took place at a public square several kilometers away from the presidential mansion, which has been guarded by some 25,000 riot police. Scores of police buses erected tight barricades all around the Blue House.

At several points, riot police armed with shields, batons and tear gas blocked thousands of slogan-chanting citizens from marching into the streets near Park's office, but no violence was reported.

Hong So-young, a 42-year-old housewife who came with her sister and a daughter, demanded Park immediately step down for "ruining the whole country".

"I was worried that my child could get hurt, but I came to a decision that the current situation is more important because this is a country which my daughter will live in," she said. "I think the president should be responsible and step down."


People hold up placards demanding President Park Geun-hye's resignation at Gwanghwamun Square, the heart of Seoul on Saturday. [Photo Park Sae-jin]

Park apologized twice for the scandal involving her crony, Choi Soon-sil, who was accused of meddling in state affairs and wresting money from businessmen. The president also suggested she would appoint a prime minister recommended by parliament in an attempt to assuage public anger.

Opposition parties turned down Park's offer, urging the president to stay away from politics, transfer a large portion of her power to a prime minister and act as a symbolic figurehead for the remaining term of her office.

Public sentiment has boiled up as South Korea's media unveiled dirty and shady deals and collusion involving Park's close associates and relatives.

Choo Mi-ae, head of the main opposition Democratic Party, declared the start of a "glorious revolution" by citizens, threatening to lead an anti-government campaign to force Park's resignation if she continues to ignore popular demands.

"President Park tarnished the image of our country, making it the subject of an international derision and laugh," Choo said. "Because she abandoned our country, the people did so."

Housewives and their kids visit the heart of Seoul to participated a rally against President Park Geun-hye on Saturday = Photo by Park Sae-jin

Kim Hee-jun, a 13-year-old middle school student who participated in the rally with her classmates, said: "I was a little scared to come, but now I feel proud, together with so many people here."

Lim Woon-taek, a 70-year old man, urged Park to take responsibility for her "shameful" wrongdoings.

"If I can change one percent of people's hearts, I would gladly take action, dragging my old and sick body here," he said. "She has done things a child wouldn't do. I feel so ashamed."

Choi, the daughter of a cult leader who became a mentor to Park, was likened to Grigori Rasputin, a Russian peasant, mystical faith healer, and trusted friend of the family of Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia. 

Prosecutors have arrested Choi on charges of attempted fraud and abuse of authority as well as two former presidential aides.

Park, who took office in early 2013 as South Korea's first female president, has said she was ready to face an investigation by state prosecutors or an independent counsel, blaming herself for inviting a political crisis.

The president appealed for the early normalization of government administration, expressing concern about a power vacuum. Public resentment, however, remained unabated.

Aju News Lim Chang-won and Park Sae-jin