Seoul – Over one million South Koreans staged peaceful rallies across central Seoul on Saturday night to demand President Park Geun-hye step down over a scandal involving her longtime confidante and former aides.
Organisers estimated that the number of participants in the Saturday rally, the third since the scandal came into focus last month, topped one million in Seoul alone, according to local media reports.
Last Saturday, some 200,000 people turned out in the capital city.
It would be the country’s largest mass rally at least since June 1987 when about one million demonstrators gathered to ouster the military dictatorship.
In 2008, some 700,000 protested against then-President Lee Myung-bak who resumed U.S. beef imports during the outbreak of mad cow disease.
Police said around 260,000 people turned out in Seoul, beating its earlier expectation of up to 170,000.
Police estimates are usually far lower than figures released by organisers as it does not include people coming back home after early participation.
Ranging from couples with their babies and children to students in school uniforms and grey-haired old men, ordinary South Koreans crowded the Seoul streets as seen in the two previous protests.
Despite the huge number, demonstrators stayed calm and rallied peacefully.
People showed restraint and instead, poured out anger by shouting for the president’s resignation and holding up posters and candles.
The embattled president made public apologies twice and accepted a coalition cabinet formed by the parliament, but people get infuriated further on growing views that Park has yet to sincerely confess to her sins.
As Donald Trump’s presidential win in the U.S. caused security uncertainties on the Korean Peninsula, people call for Park’s rapid resignation as she already lost credibility and authority in the diplomatic stage.
At least 100,000 people left for Seoul from across the country to attend the Seoul protest, including some 1,000 residents in the southern resort island of Jeju coming here by flight.
Tickets for train and express bus bound for the capital city sold out early, with chartered buses being hardly to find on unusually strong demand.
Thousands of protesters staged separate rallies in major cities nationwide.
Even South Koreans living in about 30 cities of 10 foreign countries marched to demand the scandal-plagued president’s resignation.
A private association to demand Park’s resignation, which is composed of about 1,500 civic groups, held an evening event in the Gwanghwamun Square, just 1 km away from the presidential Blue House where the presidential office and residence are located.
The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, another organizer and one of the country’s two umbrella labour union groups, held an occasion in a Seoul Plaza in front of the city hall, close to the Gwanghwamun square.
Around 25,000 police officers were allegedly deployed to prevent any violence or any march to the presidential office, but no big scuffle has been reported yet.
This Saturday’s rally is expected to become a watershed to determine the fates of President Park and her ruling Saenuri Party.
The Blue House has not announced any official response to the country’s biggest rally in about 30 years, and only a part of Saenuri members individually joined the protest.
All leaderships of the three major opposition parties actively participated in the protest, demanding Park immediately step down.
The minor Justice Party proposed a roadmap of Park’s resignation first, the parliamentary forming of an interim cabinet and early presidential election.
President Park’s approval rating stayed at five per cent for two weeks in a row, the lowest for any South Korean president, according to a Gallup Korea poll released on Friday.
Another pollster survey showed on Friday that more than 60 per cent of respondents said Park should step down or be impeached.