Torches blaze as 2.32 million people calling for Pres. Park’s immediate resignation

Posted on : 2016-12-04 11:49 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Sixth weekly demonstration bigger than previous weeks, with explosion of anger toward Park’s third statement and political bungling
 criticizing the notion that President Park Geun-hye would step down in April and hold an early presidential election in June
criticizing the notion that President Park Geun-hye would step down in April and hold an early presidential election in June

The candlelight spirit finally erupted into torches. The broad squares and roads of South Korea were packed with candles as far as the eye could see. The people’s anger was set alight once again by a sleazy President and foolish politicians.

The sixth candlelight demonstration on Dec. 3 to call for Park’s immediate resignation was a veritable tsunami of rage. The organizers estimated a historic high of 2.32 million people (in person-hours) lifting candles in over 100 sites around South Korea. It was the most ever - some 400,000 more than at last week’s nationwide “focused action” demonstrations.

“Resign, Park Geun-hye.”

“We can’t take any more.”

“A honorable resignation? No way.”

“Arrest Park Geun-hye.”

 before the main gathering in central Seoul
before the main gathering in central Seoul

What finally enflamed the silent populace once again was Park’s sneaky third address to the public over the Choi Sun-sil scandal, and the bumbling response from politicians.

“Throughout the demonstrations, the Blue House kept saying it would ‘take the public’s wishes seriously’ - and it was all lies,” said Lee Seong-gwon, a 44-year-old businessman from Seoul’s Jangan neighborhood who attended for the first time on Dec. 3 with his children. “With the third address [on Nov. 29], I thought, ‘Maybe this time,’ but instead she just maintained her own innocence and put responsibility for everything on the National Assembly. Whatever hopes I might have had are gone now. There’s no choice - the people have to bring her down. I came to offer what little support I could.”

The historic demonstrations that day were a surprise. Some had predicted a smaller turnout than on Nov. 26, when a “general assembly” was attempted at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul.

“Last week, I thought the public had made its feelings felt with the candles, but then President Park made her third address to the public where she basically refused to step down voluntarily,” said one of the organizers. “I think that’s what brought more people into the streets.”

According to the organizers, 30,000 people nationwide attended the first candlelight demonstration on Oct. 29; 300,000 the second on Nov. 5; 1,060,000 the third on Nov 12; 960,000 the fourth on Nov. 19; and 1.9 million the fifth on Nov. 26.

 Dec. 3. (by Kim Jeong-hyo
Dec. 3. (by Kim Jeong-hyo

At exactly 7 pm, the area around Gwanghwamun Square was plunged into darkness. As the emcee onstage finished a countdown, hundreds of thousands of candles were extinguished all at once. A screen on stage clearly showed the words, “Resign, Park Geun-hye” - words that demonstrators repeated as a chant for over a minute in the darkness. The nearby US Embassy joined in turning off the lights. The shouts echoed across the square, from Sejong Road Junction to in front of Seoul City Hall.

“Please don’t tire. Stay strong,” exhorted singer Han Young-ae, who took the stage for a performance. “Even a thousand years of darkness can be brightened with one candle.”

“We hope our candles today will be a new occasion for writing another chapter in the history of our democracy. The world we dream of will come,” she continued to loud applause.

 staff photographer)
staff photographer)

Han joined attendees in singing Korean folk songs “My Country, My People,” and “Hollo Arirang.” The crowd of candle-holding citizens seemed in high spirits. At a preliminary event before the main demonstration, they merrily kicked “dung balls” emblazoned with the faces of former Blue House Chief of Staff Kim Ki-choon, Saenuri Party leader Lee Jung-hyun, and former Saenuri Party leader Kim Moo-sung. Children painted images in the square to show what democracy meant to them. Many attendees flocked to “The Chaebols Are Responsible! Conglomerate Crime Expo for the Dissolution of the Chaebols and FKI [the Federation of Korean Industries],” which included impersonations of various chaebol leaders.

Attendees were particularly livid toward the Saenuri Party, which refused to cooperate with an impeachment of Park. For the first time, a rally was staged to denounce the party in front of its headquarters in Seoul’s Yeouido neighborhood.

“It just makes me want to sigh,” said one attendee, a 52-year-old homemaker surnamed Seo. “I thought at least the Saenuri Party’s non-Park wing - as opposed to its pro-Park wing - would speak for the public, and they didn’t. I came out here to speak directly to a Saenuri Party that only thinks of its future and doesn’t consider the country or its people.”

 before the main gathering in central Seoul
before the main gathering in central Seoul
Protesters tear apart a banner with the name of the ruling Saenuri Party during a demonstration in front of the party’s headquarters in Seoul’s Yeouido neighbourhood
Protesters tear apart a banner with the name of the ruling Saenuri Party during a demonstration in front of the party’s headquarters in Seoul’s Yeouido neighbourhood

Participating citizens unfurled - then tore apart - a banner bearing the words, “Saenuri Party, Accomplices to the Government Monopoly.” White banners hung up at the party headquarters were stained yellow with the yolks of eggs hurled at them. Many were also harshly critical of the opposition, which they accused of bumbling and thinking only in terms of political interests.

“Already it looks like the opposition parties and the presidential contenders are looking at the impeachment and trying to see what it’s in for them,” said university student Choi Ha-gyeong, 22. “We gave the opposition a majority [in the National Assembly], and now they say they don’t have enough votes?”

“If the opposition doesn’t honor the public’s will, then they’re no different from the Saenuri Party,” Choi continued.

Protesters tear apart a banner with the name of the ruling Saenuri Party during a demonstration in front of the party’s headquarters in Seoul’s Yeouido neighbourhood
Protesters tear apart a banner with the name of the ruling Saenuri Party during a demonstration in front of the party’s headquarters in Seoul’s Yeouido neighbourhood

Anger toward President Park Geun-hye also blazed in the form of torches - carried to their physical limit of 100 meters from the Blue House. At around 7:20 pm on Dec. 3, a group of Sewol ferry demonstrators with torches stood at the front of a post-demonstration march toward the Blue House. The number was chosen to symbolize April 16, 2014, the date of the Sewol sinking. A speaker truck rode ahead of the torchbearers, clearing the way; following it was an effigy of Park, dressed in prison clothes and tied with rope. Some demonstrators lit torches in front of the Cheongwoon Hyoja Community Service Center, located 100 meters from the Blue House. The calls for Park’s resignation turned into demands for her arrest. Family members of the Sewol victims also stood at the front of the demonstration before the Blue House. As citizens refused to leave the march - which continued late into the night, far past the time permitted for it - their shouts of anger continued to echo out toward the Blue House.

By Kim ji-hoon, Ahn Young-choon, Park Soo-jin and Ko Han-sol, staff reporters

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

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