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Demonstrations turn whimsical

With South Korea seeing a series of street rallies against scandal-hit President Park Geun-hye in recent weeks, the protests are turning more creative with satirical performances, open microphone sessions, comedy and music.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of people took to the streets across the nation in the fourth straight weekend of rallies to demand President Park resign over an influence-peddling and corruption scandal involving her close confidante Choi Soon-sil.

Many citizens were seen staging one-man protests holding satirical flags, posters and flyers to lampoon Park. Participants from all walks of life, including families with children, had a laugh listening to fellow citizens’ impromptu speeches, watching musical performances by outspoken artists on stage and singing songs together. 
A protestor holds up a star-shaped sign that reads
A protestor holds up a star-shaped sign that reads "I will send you to the universe," during an anti-President Park Geun-hye rally in Seoul on Saturday. (Son Ji-Hyoung/The Korea Herald)
“My roommates from President Park’s longtime political turf Daegu came up with this idea together. As President Park cannot quit at the top of her game now, she should just leave now,” said Jang Kyung-woo, a 23-year-old student on the sideline of Gwanghwamun Square, holding up a banner which reads “Leave when I clench my fist.”

As the candlelight vigil kicked off with the theme song from a local TV series “Secret Garden,” the crowd burst into laughter. President Park reportedly visited a medical clinic as a VIP customer to receive expensive health and beauty care for free under the name of “Gil Ra-im,” which is the name of female lead in the drama.

Children hold up candles at an anti-President Park Geun-hye rally in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, Saturday. (Yonhap)

Children hold up candles at an anti-President Park Geun-hye rally in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, Saturday. (Yonhap)
Song Jeong-sub, a 28-year-old graphic artist, decided to stage a one-man protest holding up a Gil Ra-im-themed poster to ridicule the president.

“The whole scandal has become a joke. I have no respect left for the president. As an artist, I wanted to contribute to making our voices heard,” he said. The poster reads “Haya” (resignation in Korean) at the front and “Lime” at the back.

Lim Jae-young, a 38-year-old psychiatrist, was holding a banner reading: “Who is going to take responsibility for the mental damage Koreans have suffered?”

“I cannot sleep or eat well. I cannot concentrate these days. I think many Koreans suffer from similar symptoms, which can be seen as a collective trauma, because of the Choi Soon-sil scandal,” he said. “President Park Geun-hye’s resignation is going to be of little consolation for Koreans.”

The protestors marched toward the police line near Cheong Wa Dae after the event. They chanted, “Park Geun-hye, reisgn!” or “Park Geun-hye is the core of the scandal.” They confronted the police for about three hours, but there were no major clashes or arrests.

Citizens chanted “No violence” and “Peaceful protest” whenever there were signs of clashes. “We are not fighting the police. We are fighting the presidential office. Let’s give the police a round of applause,” a man was heard saying.

Some 18,000 police officers were dispatched to maintain public order.

Rally organizers -- an association of some 1,500 civic groups and labor unions -- said that an estimated crowd of 600,000 turned up for the anti-Park protest held in Gwanghwamun area in central Seoul. The police estimate was 170,000.

“In Japan, we have a lot of problems, but our protests are not as big as this. I am envious that the rally is festive and peaceful and brings so many people together like this,” said Yuka Okamoto, an activist for Fight For Justice.

Koreans have relentlessly called for Park’s resignation through a series of rallies for the past month amid the burgeoning allegations that Park’s civilian friend Choi meddled in state affairs, peddled influence over various sectors and forced donations from conglomerates through her ties to Park.

Park has apologized twice and offered to undergo a prosecutorial investigation, but this week made several moves interpreted as an attempt to retain power.

Kang Dong-jin, 49, said Park should be impeached.

“Park said she would listen to the public, but is now back running state affairs (as if nothing happened.) She doesn’t keep her own word. She deserves nothing but impeachment.”

Across the country, rallies were held at over 100 locations. Rally organizers estimated the total turnout at nearly 1 million.

Nearly 15,000 gathered in Daegu in the city’s largest rally in history. Busan, another conservative stronghold, saw some 20,000 rally for Park’s ouster, while the liberal Gwangju reported 70,000 protestors.

In Gwangju, citizens lit torches instead of candles in defiance of the remarks made by Rep. Kim Jin-tae of the ruling Saenuri Party during the rally. Kim earlier drew the public ire after saying that that candles will be blown out as wind blows.

President Park is facing the biggest political crisis, with her approval rating remaining at an abysmal 5 percent, according to Gallup.

The anti-Park Guen-hye rally will be held in a larger scale next Saturday in Seoul. The rally organizers said that up to 1 million people are expected to turn up.

By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)
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