Hundreds of thousands of South Koreans hit the streets for fifth consecutive week
Many South Koreans call for resignation of unpopular president after scandal
Approval ratings for South Korean President Park Geun-hye have dipped into single digits – and protests calling for her ouster swelled to hundreds of thousands of people Saturday.
In the face of cold and snow, demonstrators filed into the streets of Seoul over the growing scandal that has engulfed Park’s presidency and plunged the nation’s government into uncertainty.
Massive protests have broken out since late October, and the latest marked the fifth consecutive week of such an immense demonstration.
Organizers of Saturday’s protest had called for 2 million people to hit the streets – no small feat for a country of 50 million. Protesters clutched umbrellas, signs and candles near the Blue House, the presidential residence, in Seoul. Organizers also had called for rallies in other cities, too.
There were small gatherings of support for Park, but they were a fraction of the demonstration against her.
The political saga has consumed South Korea, a key US ally, with mounting concerns that the scandal will prevent the government from making major decisions.
Park is accused of letting her confidante Choi Soon-sil, who does not hold an official government post, view confidential documents and presidential speeches. Choi is accused of using her relationship with Park to accumulate millions of dollars in donations to her foundations. Choi is charged with abuse of power, fraud and coercion, and two of Park’s former aides also face criminal charges.
Park will not be charged because the South Korean Constitution affords the President immunity while holding office.
Although she has apologized several times, Park has resisted the public pressure to resign, infuriating her critics – who have questioned her judgment and credibility.
She is set to leave office in February 2018 as she cannot run in the presidential election in December next year.
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The presidential scandal started when CNN South Korean affiliate JTBC found evidence that Choi had received secret documents on an abandoned tablet device.
Choi succeeded her father, Choi Tae-min, as leader of the Eternal Life Church after his death. For years, she has given Park spiritual guidance.
“It’s much more than simply, ‘Oh she knows this person,’ it’s deeply intertwined, almost like they’re Rasputin and Park Geun-hye is just a puppet,” David Kang, director of the Korean Studies Institute at the University of Southern California, recently told CNN.
The classified information scandal, while rare and shocking in South Korea, isn’t the only reason many are calling for Park to step down.
There has been growing frustration with her, including over the country’s stagnating economy and the Sewol ferry sinking, which killed more than 300 people. Many South Koreans were outraged at the systemic lapses that contributed to the sinking.
CNN’s Paula Hancocks, William J. Lee and Max Blau contributed to this report.