Anti-Park rallies continue as impeachment verdict nears

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Anti-Park rallies continue as impeachment verdict nears


Left, protesters take part in the 15th Saturday rally, which have taken place for over 100 days now, calling for the early removal of President Park Geun-hye, at Gwanghwamun in central Seoul amid freezing temperatures. Right, Park Geun-hye supporters gather in front of Daehan Gate and Seoul Plaza, also in central Seoul, on Saturday. [KANG JUNG-HYUN]

An estimated 800,000 people took to the frozen streets with candles nationwide Saturday calling on the Constitutional Court to remove President Park Geun-hye from office as the court gets closer to a final verdict on her impeachment.

The number of people on the streets Saturday was nearly twice as many as a week earlier, which was about 420,000 nationwide. The increase is seen as a reflection on a growing sense of urgency as the Constitutional Court is expected to wrap its deliberation and deliver a ruling before March 13, when Justice Lee Jung-mi retires from the current 8-member bench.

In Seoul alone, 600,000 chanted “Out with Park” in Gwanghwamun Square, central Seoul, at a rally that began at 6 p.m., braving temperatures down to minus 9 degrees Celsius (15.8 degrees Fahrenheit).

Opposition heavyweights took part in the rally. Moon Jae-in, the frontrunner in most polls about this year’s presidential election, said the court could not reject the impeachment motion because getting Park out of office was what the masses want.

“The voices of the people are the Constitution,” said the former human rights lawyer. “What matters now is the timing of the verdict. I hope the court listens to and accepts the people’s sincere wish for a timely decision.” Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung, another presidential hopeful, and Democratic Party Chairwoman Choo Mi-ae were among politicians who attended the 15th candlelight vigil for Park’s removal.

While many rally participants were confident that the court will oust Park for the abuse of power scandal that led to her impeachment on Dec. 9, there have been growing concerns over Park’s legal team’s attempt to delay a verdict beyond March 13, after which there will only be seven justices on the bench.

In a seven-member bench, only two votes out of seven justices are needed to vote down the motion, which would reinstate Park.

The rally organizers stated that they will hold a weekly street protest every Saturday until March 13.

To counter the pro-impeachment rally, ardent Park supporters rallied in front of Seoul City Hall in Jung District, central Seoul, waiving both Korean and American flags. Participants claimed the impeachment trial started because of a conspiracy orchestrated by Park opponents and pro-North Korea activists to take over the country.

Pro-Park rally members chanted “Vote down impeachment!” and “Dissolve National Assembly” in protest of the parliament’s overwhelming support for the impeachment motion on Dec.9.

Ruling Saenuri Party lawmakers and politicians loyal to the embattled president including Cho Won-jin and Kim Jin-tae attended what was nicknamed a Korean Flag Rally that began at 2 p.m. with 50,000, four hours before the rally by Park opponents’ rally in nearby Gwanghwamun Square.

“President Park has never sought personal interest and never been involved in corruption. She only went after the national interests with self-dedication,” said Rep. Cho in a speech.

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