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Tens of thousands calling for Park's resignation in Seoul


11-06-2016 05:53 BJT

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by Yoo Seungki

SEOUL, Nov. 5 (Xinhua) -- Tens of thousands of South Koreans engulfed a square in central Seoul Saturday, shouting for the ouster of President Park Geun-hye even after the embattled president's second apology to the nation over a scandal surrounding her longtime confidante, Choi Soon-sil.

Protesters attend a rally calling for the resignation of South Korean President Park Geun-hye in Seoul, South Korea, on Nov. 5, 2016. (Xinhua/Yao Qilin)

Protesters attend a rally calling for the resignation of South Korean President Park Geun-hye in Seoul, South Korea, on Nov. 5, 2016. (Xinhua/Yao Qilin)

From couples wheeling a baby carriage, teenagers in school uniforms to gray-haired old men, all took to the Gwanghwamun Square, with red posters reading "Step Down, Park Geun-hye" or paper cup-wrapped candles in their hands.

Slogans in the posters vary from "Shut up and Resign" to "Saenuri is an accomplice." Saenuri is the name of the ruling party affiliated with President Park.

Police estimated that about 43,000 people attended the rally, almost quadrupling a 12,000-strong protest held a week earlier. Organizers said as many as 150,000 turned out when including those coming back after early participation.

People screamed for Park's resignation in chorus at an event organized by civic groups that formally kicked off at 4 p.m. local time. With angry shouts, they looked reaching out to the presidential Blue House that is Park's office and residence located just 1-2 kilometers away from the square.

A long procession marched along the road for around two hours before gathering again in the square. During the march, they shouted in unison, "We want no apology. Step down, Park Geun-hye."

Park's Friday apology, her second since the scandal involving her decades-long confidante and former advisors came into focus last month, ended up a failure in appeasing public fury. Public anger seemed to have exploded with the emotional apology.

In the televised address to the nation, Park said with a quivering voice that the scandal was "all my fault and mistake" and that she as the country's chief executive had put too much faith in her personal relationship with Choi, who the president said had stood with her during the toughest times.

Park admitted that she lowered her guard toward Choi, whose father Park had portrayed as mentor. Park's toughest times indicate the assassinations of her mother in 1974 and then her father, military strongman Park Chung-hee killed in 1979 by one of his closest aides. Park's friendship with Choi dates back to the mid-1970s.

"It's a pity to think about President Park's personal history, but she can no longer run our country," said Seo Hyun-ah, a 39-year-old housewife who came to the square together with her mother and child in a baby carriage.

"Park must distance herself from state affairs and let a neutral prime minister form a coalition cabinet."

Park has fired eight presidential secretaries and nominated three cabinet members, including the prime minister who worked for former progressive President Roh Moo-hyun. Opposition parties have boycotted the "unilateral" nomination, demanding a new prime minister be picked by the parliamentary agreement.

Public fury is centered on the president's presumable connivance or protection of Choi suspected of peddling undue influence for personal gains and meddling in government decisions behind the scenes.

Choi has been formally detained on charges of fraud and abuse of power as she allegedly pressured conglomerates into donating tens of millions of U.S. dollars to two nonprofit foundations she actually controls.

Media reports speculated that Choi had accessed confidential presidential documents on diplomatic, defense and economic affairs on a daily basis to influence government policies.

The 60-year-old private citizen, who has no public position and security clearance, allegedly allowed her daughter to be granted special treatment in entrance to a prestigious university by using her close friendship with the first South Korean female leader.

"The Choi Soon-sil case is a complete nonsense. Park, who people elected as the president, transferred her sovereign power to a private person," said Seong Eun-joo, a junior high school student who attended the rally with two other fellow students in school uniforms.

The three female students also took to the streets to demonstrate against an attempt by the Park administration to approve a state-authored history textbook, which they expect 100 percent to beautify former military dictatorships for three decades that ended in late 1980s and the 1910-45 Japanese colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

Long dissatisfactions stacked in the past four years of Park's presidency seemed to burst into a big flame on the streets as labor unions, student unions and civic groups censured right-wing, business-friendly government policies such as easier layoffs of employees, widening income inequality and approval of state-authored history textbook.

Gray-haired old men, who are usually difficult to find in such protest rallies on the streets, marched in central Seoul, shouting together for Park's resignation. It indicates Park's loss of credibility even from those in their 60s and more, a traditional support base for the president.

"(President Park) has no sense of shame and didn't frankly confess to her sins. She can neither endure nor swim against the minds of the people," said Kim Ok-hyun.

"(Park) must resign not to humiliate our country any more. People must take this opportunity to turn evils into blessings," the 74-year-old added.

According to a weekly survey released on Friday, Park's approval rating tumbled to 5 percent, the lowest for any South Korean president.

Park, who has 16 months left in office, had seen her support scores move from 30 percent to 50 percent in the first three years since her inauguration in early 2013.

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