Rallying for the 6th straight weekend in what has become perhaps South Korea’s biggest protest movement ever, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in the capital of South Korea got the closest yet Saturday to the president they urgently want impeached.
The demonstration came hours after lawmakers formally launched an attempt to impeach President Park Geun-hye and set up a floor vote for as early as next Friday. State prosecutors accuse President Park of helping a close confidante extort money and favours from large corporations and manipulate state affairs.
The scandal has sparked mass protests each Saturday in downtown Seoul.
In the latest demonstration, the protesters advanced to a slim alley about 100 meters away from the presidential palace grounds, an area police did not previously allow them to enter.
Police estimated the turnout at 320,000, making it the largest anti-Park rally so far, although the crowd seemed to be much larger. Protest organizers estimated the crowd at approximately 1.7 million.
Some of the demonstrators, led by the relatives of a 2014 ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people, mostly teenagers on a school trip, jammed the alley near the presidential office, shouting for hours to demand Park’s arrest, not just her resignation.
Some protesters angrily threw flowers at police who had created tight perimeters around the street and demanded that the police officers get out of the way.
“We not once were allowed on this street. I have long dreamed of the day I stand here with citizens,”
“We will continue to be part of this fight with our fellow citizens till the full truth is out on how this government defrauded its people,” said Jeon Myeon-seon, one of the parents of the teenagers who died in the ferry disaster, which was partly blamed on government incompetence and corruption.
Thousands also rallied near the National Assembly to pressure political parties, including Park’s conservative ruling party, to vote for her impeachment next week.
Opposition parties controlling South Korea’s parliament had earlier planned to call for a vote this past week but were thrown off after Park made a conditional offer Tuesday to evacuate his seat, which left them squabbling over timing.
Park’s overture has also caused cracks among dissenters in her conservative ruling party who had earlier backed her removal, an alarming development for opposition parties, which do not have enough votes to push through the impeachment motion themselves.
However, some anti-Park lawmakers in the ruling party have called for Park to announce by Wednesday that she will step down voluntarily in April. It’s uncertain whether they will back the impeachment bill if she does.