100,000s stage largest-ever protest in Seoul to demand president resign

South Koreans march with candlelight towards the presidential house during a protest against South Korean President Park Geun-Hye on a main street in Seoul, South Korea November 12, 2016 © Jeon Heon-kyun
Hundreds of thousands are walking the streets of Seoul in the latest protest against South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who has come under fire for allowing her close confidante to have too much influence over her government policies.

According to organizers, 850,000 people joined the candlelight rally at Gwanghwamun and a public square near Seoul City Hall, with the number expected to reach up to one million.

Police said they counted 220,000 people, surpassing the figure they expected by at least 50,000. About 25,000 officers were deployed to maintain order during the rally.

The event sets a new turnout record for a protest in Seoul, according to Yonhap news agency. The previous was set in June 2008, when an estimated 80,000 people were reported by the police to have attended a demonstration against the government’s decision to resume beef import from the US. At the time, organizers put the number at 700,000.

Later, the protesters marched to within a few blocks of the presidential Blue House compound. The move was previously banned for security reasons, but a local court gave the organizers the green light earlier on Saturday.

The march was marred by minor clashes with the police, after which at least seven people were taken to the hospital, according to Yonhap.

The Saturday rally was organized by three opposition parties, as well as hundreds of left-leaning civic groups, which joined forces to oppose President Park, who stands accused of cronyism and abuse of power. She allegedly allowed her close personal friend, Choi Soon-sil, to take advantage of their friendship and influence government decisions for personal gains.

Park has publicly apologized several times and fired key officials entangled in the scandal, but apparently failed to calm public outrage. Her approval rating remains at a record-low five percent, according to the latest Gallop poll, as calls for her to step down grow louder.

“If President Park continues to ignore the people's demands and orders, the Democratic Party will stage a full-blown campaign for the ousting of the [Park] administration,” Choo Mi-ae, the party leader, said during the rally.

The party said it intends to push for a parliamentary probe into the alleged abuses starting next week.

The Park administration held a series of emergency meetings amid the scandal to discuss their reaction to the mass protests.

“As people are furious about [the] scandal, we are carefully watching the situation and trying to figure out a way to deal with it,” a presidential official told the news agency, declining to be named.

If Park caves in to the opposition, she will become the first South Korean president to not finish the five-year term.

Choi has been Park’s friend since the 1970s and, according to some commenters, has served as a surrogate sister for Park, who is estranged from her siblings. She was charged with abuse of power and fraud.