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Seoul protesters call for South Korean president to resign

Published 12/11/2016

A rally calling for South Korean President Park Geun-hye to step down in Seou (AP)
A rally calling for South Korean President Park Geun-hye to step down in Seou (AP)

Hundreds of thousands of people have marched in the South Korean capital Seoul to demand the resignation of president Park Geun-hye.

Police said about 220,000 people turned out for the latest mass rally against Ms Park, whose presidency has been shaken by suspicions she allowed long-standing confidante Choi Soon-sil manipulate power from behind the scenes.

Protest organisers estimated the crowd in the capital to be 850,000 in what may be South Korea's largest protest since it emerged from a dictatorship three decades ago.

A sea of demonstrators jammed streets for more than a mile, stretching from City Hall to a large square in front of an old palace gate, and applauded speeches calling for Ms Park's removal.

Protesters also marched in front of the palace gate and near the Blue House, the mountainside presidential office and official residence, and demanded Ms Park's resignation.

Despite rising public anger, opposition parties have yet to seriously push for Ms Park's resignation or impeachment over fears of triggering a backlash from conservative voters and negatively affecting next year's presidential race.

However, they have threatened to campaign for Ms Park's resignation if she does not distance herself from state affairs.

The protest on Saturday was the largest in the capital since June 10 2008, when police said 80,000 people took part in a candlelight vigil denouncing the government's decision to resume US beef imports amid mad cow disease fears.

Organisers estimated that crowd at 700,000. In the summer of 1987, millions rallied in Seoul and other cities for weeks before the then-military government caved in to demands for free presidential elections.

Train and express bus tickets to Seoul were difficult to obtain from some areas on Friday evening and Saturday morning, with the protest reportedly drawing tens of thousands of people from other cities.

In addition to allegedly manipulating power, Choi Soon-sil, the daughter of a late cult leader who emerged as Ms Park's mentor in the 1970s, is also suspected of exploiting her presidential ties to bully companies into donating tens of millions of dollars to foundations she controlled.

In an attempt to stabilise the situation, Ms Park said she would let the opposition-controlled parliament choose her prime minister. However, opposition parties say her words are meaningless without specific promises about transferring much of her presidential powers to a new number two.

Moon Jae-in, an MP from the main opposition Minjoo Party who lost to Ms Park in the 2012 presidential election, has called for the president to surrender her authority to command South Korea's military.

The opposition is also demanding a separate investigation into the scandal by a special prosecutor.

Prosecutors have arrested Ms Choi and two former presidential aides who allegedly helped Ms Choi interfere with government decisions and amass an illicit fortune at the expense of businesses.

On Saturday, prosecutors summoned a senior executive of Samsung Electronics, South Korea's largest company, which is under suspicion of spending millions of dollars illicitly financing the equestrian training of Ms Choi's daughter. They had raided the company's headquarters in southern Seoul on Tuesday.

On Friday, prosecutors summoned the chairman of steelmaker Posco over allegations that Ms Choi and her associates tried to forcibly take over the shares of an advertising company previously owned by the firm.

Under South Korea's criminal litigation law, which requires suspects to be either indicted or released within 20 days of their arrest, prosecutors have until November 20 to formally charge Ms Choi.

Ahn Jong-beom, Ms Park's former senior secretary for policy coordination, who allegedly pressured companies into donating large funds to two non-profits Ms Choi controlled, could also be indicted by the end of next week, officials claimed.

There is also a possibility that prosecutors will eventually investigate Ms Park, who said during a televised apology last week that she would accept a direct investigation into her actions.

Under South Korean law, the president has immunity from prosecution except in cases of treason, but she can be investigated.

Ms Park has 15 months left in her term. If she steps down before the end of it, an election must be held within 60 days.

AP

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