South Korea Reverberates With ‘Lock Her Up’ in Park Scandal

  • Police say 260,000 turn up for rally against President
  • Prosecutors seek impeachment over influence-peddling scandal

Hundreds of thousands of South Korean protesters marched to President Park Geun-hye’s office, beating drums and chanting slogans, even as lawmakers considered impeaching her over an influence-peddling scandal.

Protest on Saturday

Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

About 260,000 people turned up for the mass rally on Saturday, police said, making it one of the biggest demonstrations in South Korea’s history. The organizers asserted that as many as 1.5 million took part in Seoul and another 400,000 elsewhere in the country. The city square echoed the sound of “step down, arrest her” as the protesters, at one point, put out the candles they were carrying only to light it up again en masse.

"She promised a better life and now I know she meant it for herself,” said Seo Sung-kyung, a 42-year-old restaurant worker, as she walked with fellow agitators . "We’ve been fooled by her. We will not make the same mistake again."

The first female president of a North Asian nation, 64-year-old Park has apologized twice to the nation for allowing her friend Choi Soon-sil to interfere in government affairs. Prosecutors have said Park colluded in a scheme to pressure the nation’s top businesses to donate tens of millions of dollars to foundations controlled by Choi. Park called the investigation a work of “imagination” and speculation.

Growing Anger

Her approval ratings have nosedived since the scandal erupted last month, falling to an all-time low of 4 percent this week, Gallup Korea said Friday. Her rating was zero percent among people in their 20s and 30s. She hasn’t shown any signs of planning to step down soon.

Protesters hold torches during a rally on Saturday.

Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

Those marching to the presidential office included the parents of victims of the 2014 Sewol ferry sinking. They held Park responsible for a botched rescue operation. Questions about her whereabouts during the hours following the sinking have amplified their anger against her.

After the march stopped by police barricades, hundreds of thousands packed the thoroughfare near Blue House, Park’s official residence. Waving wax and LED candles, they sang together as prominent musicians joined the stage.

The presidential office was not immediately available for comment.

"Will this stop Park and lead her down? I don’t think so,” said Rhee Jong-hoon, a political commentator and research fellow at Myongji University. “Her strategy is clear -- keep her presidential immunity and delay any criminal penalty. But she will attempt to restore at least some of public confidence to better fight prosecutors’ accusation, probably through a third apology next week."

Impeachment Eyed

The opposition is working to secure enough votes from Park’s Saenuri party to pass an impeachment motion, which requires the approval of two-thirds of the 300-member parliament. The three rival parties hold 165 seats while Saenuri has 128. Former Saenuri chief Kim Moo-sung is campaigning to convince fellow party members to support Park’s impeachment.

Calling Saturday a "perfect day for Park to step down," People’s Party’s floor leader Park Jie-won wrote on his Facebook page that the opposition will submit the impeachment motion on Dec. 2 or Dec. 9. More than 40 Saenuri lawmakers may align with the opposition, he wrote.

The Constitutional Court has the final authority to approve an impeachment. Elections would be held within 60 days should Park leave office.

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