Anti-government protesters attend a rally in central Seoul on February 11, 2017. Hundreds of thousands of people took part in rival rallies in Seoul, protesting for and against the impeachment of President Park Geun-Hye, after months of political turmoil in South Korea. / AFP PHOTO / Ed JONES
Hundreds of thousands of people took part in rival rallies in Seoul Saturday, protesting for and against the impeachment of President Park Geun-Hye, after months of political turmoil in South Korea.
Park was impeached by parliament in December over a corruption scandal that tapped into mounting economic and social frustrations and brought millions of people onto the streets in weekly protests.
The Constitutional Court in Seoul is now deliberating whether to approve the impeachment, which would trigger new elections, or to allow her to see out her five-year term.
Saturday’s pro-Park protest, which drew an estimated 50,000 people, attracted large numbers of the elderly who grew up under her late dictator father, Park Chung-Hee, the leader credited with the country’s rapid industrialisation.
They claimed Park’s impeachment was a work of “pro-North Korea” leftists, urging the court to turn it down and bring Park back to power.
The rally took place outside the City Hall as anti-Park protesters, estimated by organisers to number 500,000, gathered nearby, calling for the court to approve Park’s impeachment at an early date.
Anti-Park protesters, holding lit candles, chanted “Arrest Park Geun-Hye” and “Stop delaying verdict on impeachment”.
They marched toward the presidential Blue House.
Police set up barricades to keep the two groups apart.
Park is accused of colluding with a longtime friend, Choi Soon-Sil, to strong-arm donations worth tens of millions of dollars from top firms to dubious foundations controlled by Choi.
The president is also accused of using her influence to ensure the merger of two Samsung units in 2015 to help facilitate a father-to-son power succession of Samsung’s founding family, allegedly in return for bribes given to Choi.
The court’s chief justice Lee Jung-Mi earlier this week gave Park’s lawyers until next Thursday to wrap up their arguments and present them in writing.
Her order sparked speculations that the court might reach a verdict in March.
Should the impeachment be approved, new presidential election would have to take place within 60 days.
If rejected, Park would be restored to power immediately.