Candlelit vigils spread across the nation

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Candlelit vigils spread across the nation

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Hundreds of thousands of people stage a candlelight vigil in Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul on Saturday evening, demanding President Park Geun-hye’s resignation over a corruption scandal involving herself and her friend, Choi Soon-sil. Around 950,000 people took to the streets nationwide on Saturday, according to the rally organizers. [PARK JONG-KEUN]

Some 950,000 people lit candles throughout the country on Saturday in the fourth mass rally to demand President Park Geun-hye’s resignation over the corruption scandal surrounding Park and her friend, Choi Soon-sil.

During the rally, some 600,000 gathered once more in Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul, while 350,000 more rallied outside the capital, including in Gwangju, Busan, Daejeon and Daegu, according to organizers. Police estimated some 180,000 gathered in Seoul, while some 60,000 rallied outside of Seoul.

Some 1,500 civic groups have coalesced since the break of the so-called Choi-gate scandal last month to organize public movements to demand that Park resign and submit to an investigation. Park was booked by prosecutors on Sunday as a suspect, though she will be constitutionally immune to prosecution while in office.

Choi, meanwhile, is accused of meddling in state affairs, having access to top presidential information and strong-arming conglomerates to giving extravagant funds to foundations linked to her and Park.

The hundreds of thousands in central Seoul marched from Gwanghwamun Square to the Naeja-dong Rotary near Gyeongbokgung Station once more, and came to a stop at the police line there.

Unlike the last rally, when scuffles with the police broke out at around 11 p.m., there were nearly none on Saturday. When individuals tried to break through the police line, others would shout, “Stand down” or “This is a peaceful protest!”

People pinned yellow chrysanthemums on the shields held up by police officers and placed flower stickers on police buses.

When the soundtrack from the hit TV drama series “Secret Garden” started playing in the background, the crowd broke out in laughter. President Park was found to have been registered at a lavish beauty and health clinic in Gangnam District under the code name Gil Ra-im, a character portrayed by actress Ha Ji-won in the drama in 2010.

There were a noticeable number of students spotted throughout the protests nationwide, as many high school students joined in after finishing their national college entrance exam on Thursday.

In South Jeolla’s Gwangju, some 70,000 residents held up torches in front of the old provincial office, according to rally organizers, just as the city’s residents did on May 18, 1980, in the mass democratic movement there. Police estimated some 20,000 gathered.

Students expressed frustration and anger against Choi’s daughter, Chung Yoo-ra, who received a free ride at Ewha Womans University.

“Some of us actually study hard,” said Kim Min-cheol, an 18-year-old from Gwangju who took the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) on Thursday. “While some people can be accepted to prestigious universities simply by buying a horse.”

Students held pickets and signs that read, “The CSAT is done - Park, you’re done, too.”

Podiums were set up throughout rallies where anyone could speak up against the national scandal.

“I cannot believe that President Park gave money to the daughter of a cult leader,” said an elementary school student at a podium set up in Rodeo Street in Chuncheon, Gangwon, citing the fact that Choi Soon-sil’s father was a cult leader. “How could the President betray us like this? She must resign now.”

Some 7,000 people gathered at the candlelight rally on Saturday, according to organizers.

“If this time period is, as many say, the most bountiful time in Korea’s history, then why do the young of this nation have no hope?” Lee Tae-yeong, a 16-year-old student of Suwon, spoke into a mic at Suwon Station Square. “I ask all the adults here to please help us change South Korea into a country we can proudly inherit.”

Suwon saw some 2,000 people at the rally, organized by the Minjoo Party’s Gyeonggi branch. The rallies and marches throughout the country were largely nonviolent.

In Busan, some 100,000 gathered near the Judies Taehwa department store and Beomil Station on Saturday to demand Park resign from presidency immediately.

The police count at the rally amounted to 15,000. Participants held up signs that read, “Do you call this a country?” while chanting “resign now, resign now.”

In Daejeon, organizers say about 30,000 gathered near the Galleria Department Store’s Timeworld Branch in Dunsan-dong. Police estimated some 15,000 people came. From 7 p.m., people marched 3.1 kilometers (1.9 miles) from the department store to the government complex.

Some 1,000 residents in Sejong also marched to the city’s government complex on Saturday evening, calling for Park’s resignation.

In Daegu, Park’s hometown, organizers say about 25,000 people gathered in the streets of the Public Transport Zone in Dongseong-ro of Jung District for the same cause that is rousing the rest of the country. Police estimated some 5,000 attended.

“I was so shocked after hearing the national scandal of Park’s influence-peddling friend,” said Sohn Hee-seong, a 31-year-old resident of Daegu. “I am here to voice my anger.”

“I used to support Park,” said a woman in her 60s. “I feel utterly betrayed. I hope Park can hear the cries of the people of Daegu as she sits in the Blue House.”

A podium with a mic was set up at the site from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. for anyone to speak. Many did, from about a dozen high school students to a man in his 80s. After 6 p.m., the residents started marching and chanting, calling for Park’s resignation. Some 800 local police officers were dispatched to the site, but no physical altercation took place.

According to organizers, about 10,000 gathered in Cheongju, North Chungcheong; 7,000 in Jeju; 4,000 in Suncheon, South Jeolla; 15,000 in North Jeolla; 8,000 in Ulsan; and 10,000 in Changwon, South Gyeongsang.

BY CHOI KYUNG-HO, KIM BANG-HYUN AND HONG GWON-SAM [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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