Tens of thousands of protestors gathered in Seoul on Saturday for the fourth in a weekly series of mass protests aimed at forcing President Park Geun-Hye to resign over a corruption scandal.
The demonstrations — among the largest seen in South Korea since the pro-democracy protests of the 1980s — have provided a stark challenge to Park’s authority, but the president has defied calls to step down.
After claiming a turnout of around one million for last week’s protest, organisers said they expected some 500,000 people on Saturday, while police predicted one-tenth that number.
So far the candlelight protests have been largely peaceful, with many families participating, but there was still a heavy police presence, with buses and trucks blocking access roads to the presidential Blue House.
“We want to have a peaceful protest,” Nam Jeong-Su, spokesman for the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, told AFP.
Nam said he expected the ranks of protestors to be swelled by thousands of students who sat the national college entrance exam earlier in the week.
And this being South Korea — with the world’s highest smartphone penetration rate — many had downloaded a special app showing a burning candle to hold aloft during the rally.
Hours before Saturday’s protest was scheduled to start, a crowd of around 50,000 had already gathered along Seoul’s ceremonial Gwanghwamun boulevard, south of the presidential Blue House.
“We’re here to show my children the site where history is being made”, said Kim Myung-Hee, 30, who came with her husband and two daughters.
“Park simply doesn’t feel ashamed of the wrongs she and her friend did. She must go”, Kim said.
The anti-Park rallies have continued despite two televised apologies from the president over a scandal linked to her friendship with long-time confidante Choi Soon-Sil, who has been arrested for fraud and abuse of power.
Prosecutors said they would formally indict Choi and two other alleged accomplices on Monday, prior to trial.
They have been investigating allegations that Choi, 60, leveraged her relationship with Park to coerce donations from large companies like Samsung to non-profit foundations which she set up and used for personal gain.