Thousands protest in South Korea, call for president to quit

Historically, no South Korean president has ever failed to finish their five-year term, but she is facing continued pressure from the public and political opponents to quit.

Tens of Thousands of South Koreans gathered in a protest in central Seoul on Saturday, calling on embattled President Park Geun-hye to resign over a growing influence-peddling scandal.

In what is being called one of the largest demonstrations in the country’s capital for years, it has been reported quoting police that roughly 43,000 people were at the candle-lit rally.

Organizers had been quoted by Reuters as saying that a growing crowd of 1,00,000 had assembled, making the protest one of the biggest since demonstrations in 2008 against US beef imports.

Reportedly, President Park Geun-hye has been rocked by a scandal which involved her old friend who is alleged to have used her closeness to the president to meddle in state affairs. Park has pledged to cooperate with prosecutors in an investigation.

It has been reported that a formal investigation is focused on allegations that Choi, 60, leveraged her close relationship with Park to coerce local firms into donating large sums to dubious non-profit foundations that she then used for personal gain.

Choi was formally arrested on Thursday on charges of fraud and abuse of power, reports said. However, public anger has largely focused on allegations that she meddled in affairs of state and had access to confidential documents, despite having no official position or security clearance.

The South Korean media has portrayed Choi, whose late father was a shadowy religious leader and an important mentor to Park, as a Rasputin-like figure who wielded an unhealthy influence over the president.

It has been reported that Koreans have been angered by the revelations and say Geun-hye has betrayed public trust and mismanaged her government.

In a shocking point, her approval rating has slipped to just 5 percent according to a Gallup poll released on Friday, the lowest number for a South Korean president since such polling began in 1988.

Police had said that they deployed 17,600 officers and 220 units including buses and mobile barriers to Saturday’s protest, the reports said.

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.

In attempts to restore trust in her administration, President reshuffled ministers and senior advisers, bringing in figures from outside her ruling conservative Saenuri Party. A former aide, Jeong Ho-seong, was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of leaking classified information, a prosecution official told Reuters.

In a response to her address, the main opposition Democratic Party insisted that her changes had been cosmetic and warned that it would begin a campaign for her ouster unless further steps were taken.

Park is unlikely to step down, with analysts suggesting she will limp on to the end of her term with her power severely undermined at a time of slowing economic growth, rising unemployment and elevated military tensions with North Korea. Historically, no South Korean president has ever failed to finish their five-year term, but she is facing continued 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 Byun Woo-hyuk, an 18-year-old high school student holding a banner calling on the president to resign.