Protesters file request to rally on Assembly lawn

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Protesters file request to rally on Assembly lawn

The organizer of the Saturday antigovernment rallies in central Seoul filed a request with the speaker of the National Assembly on Wednesday to allow a “public debate about state affairs” on parliamentary compounds.

The coalition of various civic and labor groups, which hosted massive rallies on each of the past six Saturdays, urged Chung Sye-kyun to open the front gates that lead to the National Assembly buildings in Yeouido, western Seoul, so they can hold the event on a large, grassy square just several feet from lawmakers’ offices.

The square is in the vicinity of the plenary chamber, where a presidential impeachment vote has been scheduled for Friday at 2 p.m. The group wants to hold the event from 7 to 11 p.m. today and from 1:30 p.m. until the end of the vote on Friday, an apparent move to pressure lawmakers to approve President Park Geun-hye’s removal from office.

Chung, a former member of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea, has yet to make any public announcement on the matter.

The attempt to gain access to the square is a bold one because under domestic law, protests are prohibited within 100 meters (328 feet) from all major government offices, including the National Assembly and the Blue House.

The organizer is trying to overcome that limitation by hosting a relay speech instead. If Chung disallows this, the group said it will protest and march around Yeouido in a show of defiance.

From Wednesday, the group has begun a daily candlelight vigil in front of the headquarters of the ruling Saenuri Party, to which President Park belongs, in the same neighborhood of Yeouido.

The demonstrations are meant to press Saenuri lawmakers to agree with the opposition parties on impeaching Park, which requires at least 200 votes of the 300-member legislature. A motion last week to impeach her was officially sponsored by 171 opposition and independent lawmakers.

A group of 40 Saenuri lawmakers who do not consider themselves pro-Park, and who are known as the Crisis Management Council, said Tuesday they were “ready” to pass the impeachment motion. Still, nobody knows for sure how the result will actually come out tomorrow. The vote will be by secret ballot.

Even though the Assembly does agree to impeach Park, the organizer said it would continue with its Saturday rallies until she actually leaves office, hinting at how scarcely it trusts the administration.

If Park is impeached, her presidential power will be immediately suspended and the prime minister will serve as acting president. Then the Constitutional Court has up to 180 days to rule on the impeachment’s legality. A seventh antigovernment rally will be held in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, this Saturday.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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