Dreaming of a new world, one million candles again burn nationwide

Posted on : 2016-11-20 11:12 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Despite resistance from right-wing groups, public protests go ahead in peaceful and festive atmosphere
Participants hold candles at the fourth public demonstration calling for an investigation into the Choi Sun-sil scandal and President Park Geun-hye’s resignation
Participants hold candles at the fourth public demonstration calling for an investigation into the Choi Sun-sil scandal and President Park Geun-hye’s resignation

The million candles are growing even stronger. The beacon that began burning on Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square has now spread nationwide: 600,000 in Seoul, 100,000 in Busan, 40,000 in Gwangju, 25,000 in South Gyeongsang Province, 25,000 in Daegu, 15,000 in South Jeolla Province, 12,000 in Gangwon Province. Well over a million candles were lit in 70 locations nationwide on the evening of Nov. 19 as part of the fourth citizens action to demand President Park Geun-hye’s resignation. The public’s anger burned even more intensely in response to Park’s decision to go on the counteroffensive after the million-candle display on Nov. 12. The cries of the far-right and conservative groups trying to save her were drowned out by the booming shouts of a million people.

The tens of thousands of candles pointed at the Blue House from nearby Gyeongbok Palace Metro Station were a stern rebuke to the foolish and reckless antics of a President who has already been erased in the holders’ minds.

 at Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul
at Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul

“President Park Geun-hye says we’ve begun a long-term occupation at the Blue House,” said one member of the public at a free speaking event. “They say ‘candles go out when the wind blows’? I don’t know about that. They do say President Park likes to watch soap operas, but miniseries don’t end after four or five episodes. Our candles will keep being lit - ten times, twenty times, as long as it takes for the President to come to her senses.”

 Nov. 19. (pool photo)
Nov. 19. (pool photo)

As recently as the morning of the event, fears of possible physical confrontations at the fourth candlelight rally were high. Police had issued a ban on marching on Yulgok Road in front of Gwanghwamun, and the Association of People Who Love Park Geun-hye (Parksamo) and other far-right and conservative groups had warned of their own large-scale counter-demonstrations. But that morning, a court granted permission to march on Yulgok Road and Sajik Road one kilometer away from the Blue House, as had been done in the demonstration the weekend before. For Jahamun Road and Samcheong Road on either side of Gyeongbok Palace - 500 meters from the Blue House - marching was permitted during a two-hour, 30-minute period during the day. It was a larger area and longer period allowed for the march than had been given the previous weekend.

“All of the assemblies and demonstrations this time are an extension of the previous demonstrations stemming from concerns about the President’s handling of the government, and all of the previous demonstrations ended peacefully,” the court said in permitting marching over the Sajik and Yulgok Road areas. “In light of the petitioners’ promise of a peaceful assembly and the mature sense of civic consciousness and order seen at the previous demonstrations, it appears that the assemblies and demonstrations this time will also proceed peacefully.”

Participants in the fourth weekly demonstration calling on President Park Geun-hye to resign march carrying candles from Dongsipsagak Intersection toward the Blue House in Seoul
Participants in the fourth weekly demonstration calling on President Park Geun-hye to resign march carrying candles from Dongsipsagak Intersection toward the Blue House in Seoul

One variable was a “save Park Geun-hye” counter-demonstration organized at the plaza in front of Seoul Station. Police estimated a turnout of 17,000 participants at the rally that day, including members of Parksamo and around 80 other far-right and conservative groups.

“You have gathered here to beat down the leftist bastards,” cried a speaker at the rally. “Ladies and gentlemen, President Park needs to take action right now to stop these communist antics that obliterate basic citizen rights.”

Other slogans chanted at the rally included, “Against resignation, against impeachment, follow the Constitution,” “Are the hundreds of plunderers in the National Assembly clean?” “Guard the Constitution’s functioning and save the Republic of Korea,” and “Stop seizing and trampling the government and start caring for the public’s livelihood.” Some of the participants held signs with phrases such as “the commies must die for the country to live”; during the march, onlookers could be seen screaming “drive out the commies” and “get out, you [expletive] reds.” Their march, which began at around 4 pm, raised fears of possible conflict with the candlelight rally participants, but members ended up retreating at around 5 pm in front of Sungnyemun, where police had cordoned the area off ahead of the main candlelight rally event’s start.

 Nov. 19. (by Kim Myoung-jin
Nov. 19. (by Kim Myoung-jin

Police positioned 18,000 officers from 202 squadrons around downtown Seoul ahead of the candlelight demonstration. To prepare for the march, they set up a vehicle barricade, with a final cordon at Naeja-dong Junction and the area in front of the Dongsipja Tower leading to the Blue House. Most of their forces were massed in those two locations to prepare for a worst-case scenario. After the main demonstration ended at 7:30 pm, the national action began its march from Gwanghwamun Square, traveling west along Yulgok Road toward the Naeja neighborhood. In all, police had some 22,500 officers from 253 squadrons in place for candlelight demonstrations taking place at the same time in around 100 locations nationwide.

Prior to the main demonstration, some anxious citizens began assembling in groups at 7 pm at Naeja-dong Junction, which leads to the Blue House. As the main demonstration ended and the march began around 8:30 pm, the crowd of people carrying candles toward the intersection reached close to 100,000 people at one point. Tens of thousands of participants faced off with police in the area around the intersection in front of Gyeongbokgung Station - but unlike the weekend before, there were no scuffles.

Participants also generated a festive atmosphere with a mobile stage where they sang and engaged in free speaking. One participant who was fighting early on in the standoff was seized by the police and sent to the back, but not arrested. Whenever anyone at the front of the contingent facing police attempted to push past the police line, other participants would shout him or her down with cries of “peaceful protest” and “sit down.” Instead, participants continued on the peaceful atmosphere, applauding and shouting chants in response to free speaking on a speaker truck that arrived around 8 pm and signing “The Resignation Song” for Park. The Naeja-dong Junction assembly ended peacefully just after midnight.

 staff photographer)
staff photographer)

The spirit of the candles burned much more intensely in cities besides Seoul. In President Park’s “political backyard”, the conservative stronghold of Daegu, over 20,000 people took to the streets holding candles and shouting “step down, Park Geun-hye” and “disband the Saenuri Party.” It was the first time since the June Democratic Uprising of 1987 that such a large number of people took part in an assembly in Daegu. In Busan, a veritable cloud of citizens gathered in front of the Judies Taewha department store. Organizers put the number at 100,000; police estimated around 15,000. Citizens gathering for the assembly called unanimously for Park to step down.

“I used to support President Park,” said a 78-year-old participant surnamed Ko. “I didn’t know she would be running things this way. Every time my friends get together, they do nothing but insult her. For this country to be set right, President Park needs to step down.”

Kang Sin-yeong, 24, carried a candle from his wheelchair while taking part in a “100,000-person emergency candlelight assembly” at May 18 Democracy Square on Gwangju’s Geumnam Road.

“I came because I wanted to contribute whatever small strength I could,” he said.

The roughly 40,000 citizens gathered at the square (19,000 according to police estimates) joined voices to sign “The Resignation Song.” Organized by the Gwangju Citizen Campaign Headquarters for Park Geun-hye’s Resignation, the emergency assembly was attended by eight times as many people as the candlelight cultural festival on Nov. 12.

“Say you’ll dream a new dream. . . .”

At the main demonstration on Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square, singer Jun In-kwon took the stage to sing his song “Don’t Worry Dear.”

“Dear, don’t worry at all / Let’s sing together / All your painful memories / Bury them deep in your heart dear / What’s past is past . . . Say you’ll dream a new dream.”

Hundreds of thousands of candle-carrying citizens joined in singing along with Jun. It was the truth: we are dreaming of a new world.

By Kim Ji-hoon, Bang Jun-ho and Park Su-ji

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories

Most viewed articles