Anti-Park vigils across Korea to pull 2 million
Organizers anticipate some 1.5 million people - from farmers on tractors to college professors - will come to Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul to demand President Park’s resignation or impeachment over the influence-peddling and abuse of power scandal involving her close friend Choi Soon-sil.
This Saturday’s rallies are expected to be the largest to date. Since starting in Gwanghwamun on Oct. 29, the candlelight vigils have been gradually growing in scale each Saturday, although the peak so far in Seoul was on Nov. 12.
The rallies have been peaceful gatherings of people of all ages and from all walks of life. Many families have brought small children to them.
But as they grow, so too does the possibility of conflicts with police.
The Korean Peasants League mobilized 1,000 tractors, trucks and farming vehicles to take part in the Saturday protest in Seoul.
Farmers hit the highway Friday to drive to Seoul from rural areas, including South Chungcheong and Gyeonggi.
Many will take part in a gathering of the league in Jongno District at 5 p.m. Friday. They also planned to parade to the vicinity of the Blue House.
The Seoul Administrative Court Friday allowed a tractor protest requested by the farmers’ league, overturning the Seoul Jongno Police’s initial decision to prohibit the mobilization of tractors and other farm vehicles during the Saturday rally.
The court also allowed the tractors to take part in a parade to the Cheongun-dong Community Service Center in Jongno, which is only 200 meters (656 feet) away from the Blue House.
The court, however, forbid tractors and farm vehicles and equipment from parking in the Sejongno area leading to Gwanghwamun.
Police initially said the tractor protest could cause congestion downtown.
Over 100 Seoul National University professors are expected to take part in the rally.
This will be the first time such a group of SNU professors will take part in a mass rally since the April 19, 1960 demonstration, also called the April Revolution, to overthrow the autocratic President Syngman Rhee. Rhee was forced to step down a week later on April 26.
Of 2,200 professors at SNU, 728 have signed a statement calling for Park to step down.
As on the previous Saturday, high school seniors who completed their College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) last week are also expected to take part.
Opposition presidential candidates were expected to take part in the rally again.
Moon Jae-in, former chairman of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea, met for a dialogue Friday with students from different colleges gathered at Kyonggi University, and was scheduled to take part in a candlelight vigil at Suwon City Hall in Gyeonggi.
“The responsibility for President Park, being an imperialistic president and monopolizing state affairs, falls firstly on herself and then on the ruling party,” said Moon.
With the increasing number of participants, safety authorities and rally organizers are concerned that the peaceful nature of the rally could shift.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government announced Friday it will take measures to support the protesters, address their needs and ensure their safety.
The city government said it will deploy 542 guards throughout the rally area around subways, stairs and ventilation grates to monitor the security and safety of the people.
It will also prepare for any medical emergencies by deploying 425 firefighters and rescue workers on site. There will be 31 fire engines and 10 emergency motorcycles on standby around the rally locations.
The city government came to an agreement with building owners around Gwanghwamun and will have 210 restrooms opened to the public, compared to just 49 for the previous rally.
There will also be 16 portable restrooms installed throughout the rally area.
There will be two information centers set up at Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall and the Cheonggye Plaza to report missing children and offer first aid.
Public transit hours may be extended. The Seoul Metropolitan Subway Line No. 1 will operate additional trains between Seoul Station and Cheongnyangni Station.
Subways and buses will decide on extending their operation depending on the situation on the day of the rally.
The Seoul city government will also operate a situation room overseeing safety management during the rally. The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said it will likewise dispatch 183 officers starting from 1 p.m. Saturday, including by subway entrances around Gwanghwamun, the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, Gyeongbok Palace and City Hall as well as inside the stations.
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said Friday, “The Seoul Metropolitan Government will work towards a safer and more peaceful rally in the city this time around as well.”
The Korean Metropolitan Agency forecasted rain or light snowfall on Saturday, with a low of zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) in Seoul.
The Gyeonggi Provincial Government announced Friday that it will extend the operating time of bus routes between Seoul and the province to 1 a.m. every Saturday until the rallies end.
The three major telecommunications operators are also bracing for the large gathering in Gwanghwamun and are increasing their base stations to accommodate a million-plus protesters accessing their networks.
KT said that it will increase its base station coverage by a factor of two compared to last week, when nearly a million people attended the rally.
This is four times the usual amount. It will deploy some 346 3G base units compared to 171 the past week.
LG U+ will also increase its base stations to 75, three times more than usual, and mobile base stations in Gwanghwamun to 10, two more than last week. SK Telecom plans to increase its mobile traffic capacity to 4.5 times its usual. The operators also will boost Wi-Fi access in the area.
Candlelight vigils demanding President Park’s resignation will also be held in Busan, Ulsan, Daegu, Gwangju, Chuncheon in Gangwon and Jeju.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]