SEOUL -- A day after South Korean lawmakers successfully impeached scandal-hit President Park Geun-Hye, hundreds of thousands of people were expected to take to the streets of Seoul on Saturday for a scheduled protest turned celebration.
For the seventh straight week, the capital braced for one of the huge candle-lit rallies that have become the signature of a mass movement aimed at removing the deeply unpopular Park from office.
Although the national assembly voted to strip Park of her executive powers on Friday, activists say they intend to keep up the pressure with the impeachment still requiring final approval from the Constitutional Court — a process that could take months.
And many are adamant that the president should resign immediately and face criminal prosecution.
Until the court rules, Park’s authority is only suspended and she retains the title of president and the immunity from prosecution that goes with it.
And she still has her supporters, many of them elderly voters who remain steadfast admirers of her father, the late military dictator Park Chung-Hee — credited as the architect of the South’s economic transformation but vilified as an authoritarian rights abuser.
A large portrait of a young Park with her father formed the centrepiece of pro-Park rally in Seoul on Saturday morning that drew around 15,000 people.
Waving national flags, they carried banners that read: “President Park, Don’t Cry” and “Nullify impeachment.”
“When the (anti-Park) protestors stage rallies, they don’t carry any national flags. This is because they are all pro-North Korea leftists,” said Kim Sa-Rang, a 78-year-old church pastor.
Park was impeached on numerous counts of constitutional and criminal violations ranging from a failure to protect people’s lives to bribery and abuse of power.
Most of the charges stemmed from an investigation into a scandal involving the president’s long-time friend, Choi Soon-Sil, who is currently awaiting trial for fraud and embezzlement.
Prosecutors named Park a suspect in the case, saying she colluded in Choi’s efforts to strong arm donations from large companies worth tens of millions of dollars.
The impeachment process was ignited and fuelled by public outrage at Park’s behaviour, with weekly mass demonstrations demanding that politicians take a pro-active role in removing her from the presidential Blue House.