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Saturday’s protest to be watershed moment for Park

Cheong Wa Dae, rival political forces and the police on Friday braced themselves for the massive anti-government rally to be held Saturday in Seoul, which observers say could be a watershed moment for the beleaguered President Park Geun-hye in the Choi Soon-sil fiasco. 

Thousands of chartered buses are expected to take residents from other parts of the Korean Peninsula to the rally, which is expected to be the largest candlelight vigil ever to be held in local history.

As many as 1 million people may gather, according to rally organizers. Police anticipate some 170,000 participants, which would still by far exceed the turnout of the 2008 anti-US beef protest. At that time, police’s tally was 80,000 against organizers’ claim of 700,000.

Though organized by a union of some 1,500 civic groups and labor bodies, the upcoming rally is expected to be joined by nearly all that oppose the scandal-hit conservative leader, spanning labor, civic society, political parties and unaffiliated citizens from all over the country.

Cheong Wa Dae appeared to be lying low in the face of public anger toward Park for letting her friend interfere with state affairs. 

“We will hear citizens’ voices very seriously,” presidential spokesperson Jung Youn-kuk said Friday. 

The government, in a public statement, pleaded for a peaceful protest.

“It is a turbulent time for South Korea with North Korea’s missile threats, and uncertainties growing in the world economy following the results of the US presidential election,” said the statement read by Lee Joon-sik, the deputy prime minister for social affairs. 

“At such times, it is of utmost importance for citizens to overcome difficulties together. Please cooperate to uphold a mature and peaceful protest culture.”

Protestors hold candles and signs reading
Protestors hold candles and signs reading "Park Geun-hye out" on the in the streets near Cheonggye Stream in central Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)


The nation’s three main opposition parties -- the Democratic Party of Korea, People’s Party and the Justice Party -- have decided to join the rally.

The ruling Saenuri Party criticized the decision.

“The opposition’s protest outside the National Parliament only manifests that they deny their responsibility,” Saenuri spokesperson Rep. Min Kyung-wook said. He criticized the parties for snubbing the president’s efforts to bring the nation back on track. Park had asked them to recommend a prime minister candidate to forge a new Cabinet, but they had rejected the request. 

The protest comes amid continuing public anger over the scandal involving President Park’s longtime confidante Choi. Amid the onslaught of revelations detailing how Choi and her associates meddled in state project, Park’s approval rating has plunged to a record-low of 5 percent. Polls show that a majority of Koreans want Park’s removal from office.

On Saturday, several separate demonstrations are to be held by student groups, labor groups, women’s organizations and farmer unions in different parts of Seoul prior to the main protest that begins at 4 p.m.

Some 25,000 police forces will be deployed, according to authorities, which added they will avoid actions that may provoke violent clashes with the demonstrators.

Seoul, whose mayor plans to join the rally, plans to deploy 15 ambulance squads and 70 paramedics, and increase the number of security guards in subway stations on the day.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)

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