NATIONAL

Korea celebrates Park's ouster

By Shin Hyon-hee
  • Published : Mar 11, 2017 - 20:33
  • Updated : Mar 12, 2017 - 18:17

A day after the court ruled to remove President Park Geun-hye from office, hundreds of thousands of South Koreans gathered to celebrate the result in central Seoul on Saturday, while her supporters called for the impeachment to be invalidated.

As of 7 p.m., an estimated 500,000 had turned up in Gwanghwamun Square, according to organizers. They set off fireworks and complete strangers in the crowd shook hands, exchanging gratitude and smiles and waving candles together.

For them, Friday’s verdict was the fruit of their efforts to bring justice to a leader who has failed her own people for the interests of the rich and her inner circle. Since a sweeping corruption scandal broke out late October, a total of 16 million people have taken to the streets almost every Saturday evening demanding Park’s resignation, organizers say.

“It is the victory we earned. The court confirmed that people are the owners of this country,” Jang Kyung-hee told The Korea Herald. The 21-year-old university student came from Busan with her friends to mark “the first, historic day” without Park in office.

“Spring will finally come,” she said.
 

South Koreans let off fireworks in celebration of the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye during a rally in central Seoul on Saturday. (Yonhap)

The Constitutional Court on Friday ruled unanimously to unseat the disgraced leader, saying Park impaired the spirit of democracy and rule of law. The court acknowledged that she had abused her presidential power to help her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil derive personal benefits by letting her meddle in state affairs.

The scandal and ensuing impeachment campaign also tore the nation in two. Just hundreds meters away, staunch Park supporters staged a protest in front of City Hall until the evening, denouncing the court as biased and vowing a nationwide movement to disobey the ruling, which cannot be legally challenged.

“We cannot accept or yield to a ruling by the Constitutional Court. In the name of the people, we demand the dissolution of the court and a retrial by nine new justices,” Jeong Kwang-yong, head of an association of groups against Park’s impeachment.

“I came here because I was just so angry. I cannot help but think that there is a well-devised plot behind it -- probably North Korea,” said Seo Seok-reen, 64, adding Park had been “framed” and shifting the blame to Choi. “Now I think protecting liberal democracy can only be earned by blood.”
 

Separate rallies take place in central Seoul on Saturday for and against the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. (Yonhap)

Despite fears of a possible eruption of violence, the rival rallies were peaceful, with no major reports of clashes or injuries.

Shortly after the verdict, the pro-Park rally grew violent outside the courthouse, resulting in injuries and the deaths of three protesters. Police raised their alert to its second-highest level Saturday, dispatching some 16,000 officers in central Seoul.

As dusk gathered, the boulevards surrounding Gwanghwamun Square turned into a festive outdoor concert venue, with singers performing and citizens taking the podium to make speeches. There were pancakes, rice cakes, cups of coffee and flower bouquets freely given out to the participants.

At the 7 p.m. peak of the festivities, fireworks were displayed and participants began to march through downtown. Anti-Park protestors chanted “Stamp out deep-rooted evil!” and “Arrest Park Geun-hye!” while holding placards reading “This is the country, this is justice.”
 

South Koreans celebrate the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye during a rally in central Seoul on Saturday. (Yonhap)

The ruling stripped Park of the criminal immunity given to a sitting president, which would pave the way for prosecutors to launch a probe into her bribery, power abuse and other charges involving a face-to-face questioning and raid on Cheong Wa Dae.

She is suspected to have helped extort 43 billion won ($37.6 million) disguised as charitable donations from the country’s top conglomerates, including Samsung Group, and giving favors in exchange. An independent counsel named Park as an accomplice to Choi as it recently wrapped up its 70-day probe into the scandal.

“Park is such a shameless person. After being ousted for making the country like this with her corrupt activities, she did not even apologize, and stayed in the presidential office,” Lee Kyung-yeon, 22.

Park has not made any statement on the verdict. She has stayed inside the presidential compound and is expected to move out in the coming days.
 

South Koreans celebrate the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye during a rally in central Seoul on Saturday. (Yonhap)

Some expressed hope for a society that is more transparent and embraces differences.

“South Koreans have suffered too much over the past months because of the corrupt president,” said Lee Joon-sik, a 37-year-old office worker said. “I hope this can be a chance for the country to become a more mature democracy.”

Lee Jung-hyun, a 26-year-old student, said, “It is too late, but justice was served and I think there is still hope for the society.”


By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com) and Bak Se-hwan (sh@heraldcorp.com)