Hundreds of of thousands of protesters in South Korea have taken to the streets of the capital Seoul to demand the ouster of President Park Geun-hye, who is embroiled in a power-peddling scandal.
Organizers expected as many as a million people to attend the rally on Saturday on the main street leading to the presidential Blue House but police put their estimations around 200,000.
Either figure would represent a record number of protesters ever gathering for a march in the capital city, according to local press reports.
The crowd of protesters, including labor union activists, chanted “Park Geun-hye resign! Park Geun-hye resign!” as the rally officially commenced at lunchtime Saturday.
The embattled Park was plunged into the worst crisis of her often turbulent tenure following reports that she had been taking advice on everything from North Korea to her wardrobe from a life-long friend, Choi Soon-sil.
Choi is said to lack any political experience and allegations of her links to a questionable cult have further compounded President Park’s troubles.
Choi has been accused of using her relationship with Park to solicit $70 million in donations from major corporations such as Samsung, intended for two foundations but in fact embezzled for her personal use.
The shadowy woman has been detained and is being questioned by prosecutors, as are several of Park’s close aides.
Although South Korea is no stranger to corruption or influence-peddling scandals, this latest case has particularly angered the public since many wonder if the nation was being run by a “shadow president” with no experience.
They are further enraged that government institutions – from the prosecutors’ office to the Blue House itself – not only did not intervene but appeared to have collaborated with Choi, local reports allege.
The protesters gathered in Gwanghwamun, the central part of Seoul in front of the Blue House, for the third Saturday in a row to demand Park’s ouster.
Some 25,000 police in riot gear were out in force, while buses had been lined up head-to-tail on the streets leading up to and around the Blue House, cutting off access to the president’s office and residence.
Many opposition lawmakers, as well as some members of the ruling Saenuri Party, are also calling for Park to step down.
“President Park’s last gesture toward the people of Korea should be to take her hands off the helm of state affairs and to submit to a prosecution investigation,” Choo Mi-ae, chairwoman of the main opposition Minjoo party, said.
The president, however, has defied calls for her ouster and has instead delivered two nationally-televised apologies and replaced several advisers and ministers.
Park intends to hold on to power until elections scheduled for December 2017, appointing a powerful new prime minister instead. But she was forced to withdraw her nominee for prime minister after the opposition complained about her “unilateral” decision.