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[From the scene] South Koreans celebrate Park’s impeachment in rally

A day after South Korean lawmakers impeached scandal-hit President Park Geun-hye, hundreds of thousands of South Koreans gathered in central Seoul, this time to celebrate the impeachment.

Despite the sub-zero temperature, some 800,000 people bundled up in thick jackets and flocked the Gwanghwamun Square to express their joy at the result. But they said firmly that the impeachment was not the end of their fight.

Many of the protesters vowed to hold up candles until Park resigns and those who assisted her in committing wrongdoings are held accountable.

Citizens march towards Cheong Wa Dae or the presidential office in the 7th rally in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul on Saturday after the impeachment vote passed Friday. (Yonhap)
Citizens march towards Cheong Wa Dae or the presidential office in the 7th rally in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul on Saturday after the impeachment vote passed Friday. (Yonhap)
“I was so excited when I heard the president was impeached. I clapped with my colleagues at work. I think it was a rational decision,” Kang Hoon, 37, who came with his 3-year-old child, told The Korea Herald. “But we cannot call it a victory until President Park steps down.”

"I will continue to holda candle until she resigns."

South Korean lawmakers on Friday voted to impeach the embattled leader over her involvement in an influence-peddling and corruption scandal, with the approval of 234 lawmakers from the 300-seat National Assembly.

This was the first rally since lawmakers impeached her and the seventh straight Saturday rally to demand President Park Geun-hye step down. Across the nation, more than a million people took to the streets.  

Now, the fate of her presidency is left up to the Constitutional Court as it requires final approval from it, which could take up to 180 days.

“The Constitutional Court should make a decision as quickly as possible to uphold the public calls,” said 62-year-old Cho Min-koo, who came with his family. “I am here today to enjoy the festivities. I have been surprised and proud to see how mature my fellow Korean citizens are.”

Until the court makes its ruling, Park is stripped of presidential authority and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn will serve as acting president. But she retains the title of president and is immune from criminal investigation.

Protestors march towards the presidential office during the seventh rally against President Park Geun-hye held in central Seoul, Saturday. (Yonhap)
Protestors march towards the presidential office during the seventh rally against President Park Geun-hye held in central Seoul, Saturday. (Yonhap)

On Saturday evening, the boulevards surrounding the Gwanghwamun Square turned into a festive outdoor concert venue, with citizens taking to the stage to make speeches and local singers performing.

At the peak of the event, fireworks were displayed, participants hugged strangers next to them and waved candles.
Fireworks are displayed to celebrate the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye during the seventh rally against President Park Geun-hye in central Seoul, Saturday. (Yonhap)
Fireworks are displayed to celebrate the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye during the seventh rally against President Park Geun-hye in central Seoul, Saturday. (Yonhap)

Following the main event, some 30,000 marched to three locations, as close as 100 meters from the presidential office, to surround it. They chanted “President Park Geun-hye, resign!” “Arrest Park Geun-hye” and “We cannot stand another day!”

Protestors hold a placard
Protestors hold a placard "President Park Geun-hye, step down!" and a candle during the seventh anti-Park rally held in central Seoul, Saturday. (Yonahp)

“It is a triumph of the people. We have fought hard to defend our democracy,” said Kim Yool-gu, 47, while taking a selfie with his family at the square.  “But we are only halfway through until she steps down.We need to keep raising our voices to root out corrupt political and economic systems.”

Many protesters also said the outcome taught them what democracy means.

“I cannot believe that we made this impeachment happen. I am so touched and excited. I learned that I can change society if I participate,” said 18-year-old student Kwon So-yoon. “I am not even cold, because of the people around me.”

Some 800,000 protestors pack the Gwanghwamun Square during the rally against President Park Geun-hye on Saturday. (Yonhap)
Some 800,000 protestors pack the Gwanghwamun Square during the rally against President Park Geun-hye on Saturday. (Yonhap)

Some expressed hope for a fairer society through structural reforms.

“I am happy, but it is not the end to making a society that can be ruled by the people. We need to take this as an opportunity to remove corrupt links between the prosecution, family-owned conglomerates and powerful politicians,” said Cho jong-joo, who was giving out free coffee and tea at the square

Others demanded a thorough probe and stern punishment of Park, her friend Choi Soon-sil and ex-presidential aides such as Woo Byung-woo and Kim Ki-choon, who are also implicated in the scandal.

“Park Geun-hye and her friends in the political and economic circles who assisted her to commit crimes should all be arrested and punished so that such corruption can never happen again,” said 21-year-old student Kim Na-jin.

Earlier in the day, a variety of civic organizations, farmers groups, students groups and labor unions gathered for a rally at various locations in central Seoul to call for an end to controversial policies such as the reinstatement of the state-issued text books, deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system, and labor market reforms.
Three hundred and four life jackets are placed on the ground of Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul, Saturday, each commemorating one of the victims who died in the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster. (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)
Three hundred and four life jackets are placed on the ground of Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul, Saturday, each commemorating one of the victims who died in the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster. (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)
One of the key remaining issues is to reveal what happened on the day of the Sewol ferry disaster, which cost the lives of more than 300 people in April in 2014. The president has come under fire for the administration’s botched rescue efforts to save the victims, with questions growing over what she did for seven hours while the ferry sank.

Citizens stick yellow ribbons to a wall in Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul, Saturday to pay respect to the victims of the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster. (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)
Citizens stick yellow ribbons to a wall in Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul, Saturday to pay respect to the victims of the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster. (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)

“If the president did her job properly, this tragedy could have not taken place,” said Lee Young-jin, 39, attaching a yellow ribbon to an installment in front of the memorial altar for the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster. “The cause behind the ferry sinking should be clearly revealed to prevent a recurrence of such a tragedy.”

Avid fans of President Park Geun-hye gathered to call for a cancellation of the impeachment in a counter rally held in central Seoul, Saturday. (Yonhap)
Avid fans of President Park Geun-hye gathered to call for a cancellation of the impeachment in a counter rally held in central Seoul, Saturday. (Yonhap)

Some 15,000 people, mostly in their 60s or older, from right-wing civic groups and President Park’s fan club staged a rally near Gwanghwamun Square, calling for the impeachment to be canceled. They carried banners reading, “Don’t cry. Don’t be sad. Be confident,” slamming the parliament for passing the impeachment motion.

South Koreans have taken to the streets and lit candles across the nation for the past six weeks to call for Park’s ouster, with cumulative participation standing at about 6 million, according to the rally organizers.

President Park has been criticized for colluding with Choi Soon-sil, who has neither an official government post nor policy background, to extort money from conglomerates and let her meddle in state affairs.

While an independent counsel continues to investigate the scandal, Choi is set to stand trial for fraud and embezzlement on Dec. 19. 

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