Protesters in South Korea's capital Seoul call for resignation of president

Protestors marching on Dec 5, 2015 from Seoul Plaza towards Seoul National University Hospital.
Protestors marching on Dec 5, 2015 from Seoul Plaza towards Seoul National University Hospital.ST PHOTO: CHANG MAY CHOON
Protesters seated at Seoul Plaza on Dec 5, 2015, wearing masks with the words "Park Geun Hye resign".
Protesters seated at Seoul Plaza on Dec 5, 2015, wearing masks with the words "Park Geun Hye resign".ST PHOTO: CHANG MAY CHOON
Masked protester holding a sign that says: The government should be afraid of the people, people should not be afraid of the government.
Masked protester holding a sign that says: The government should be afraid of the people, people should not be afraid of the government. ST PHOTO: CHANG MAY CHOON
Some protesters holding a giant paper mask of President Park Geun Hye's face
Some protesters holding a giant paper mask of President Park Geun Hye's face ST PHOTO: CHANG MAY CHOON

SEOUL (AFP) - Tens of thousands of protesters marched in Seoul on Saturday (Dec 5), accusing President Park Geun Hye of sacrificing workers and farmers for large businesses and rewriting history textbooks to glorify her father's authoritarian rule.

An estimated crowd of 30,000 people, many of them wearing masks in defiance of Ms Park's call for a ban on masking-wearing during protests, marched through the city centre behind a banner reading "Resign Park Geun Hye", chanting slogans.

Police had initially banned Saturday's rally but organisers appealed to the Seoul Administrative Court, which overturned the order, paving the way for a second massive protest in the capital in the space of a month.

Organisers vowed to mount a peaceful demonstration and 300 religious figures including Buddhists, Catholics and Protestants, each carrying a flower, helped prevent protesters from crossing police lines.

While presiding over a government Cabinet meeting on Nov 24, Ms Park described the earlier demonstration as an attempt "to negate the rule of law and incapacitate the government", calling for a crackdown on those who incite "illegal, violent protests".

She also called for a ban on the wearing of masks by protesters, saying it was the sort of practice adopted by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), sparking angry reactions from opponents.

Ms Park's administration is facing mounting resentment over a range of issues including her plan to impose new history textbooks on schools, to further open the agricultural market and reform the labour market, making the dismissal of workers easier and cutting wages for older workers.

"President Park, Don't try to turn South Korea's national history into your family's private history", said a banner carried by a female student at a rally which took place outside the City Hall.

"We're not ISIS, we are just poor students", said another sign held by her colleague.

Saturday's rally was jointly organised by groups including the militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), the federation of farmers' associations known as Jeonnong, the national teachers union and the association of urban poor.

KCTU president Han Sang Kyun said in a video message at the rally that KCTU would launch a general labour strike on Dec 16. Mr Han has taken refuge at a Buddhist temple in Seoul to avoid being arrested for leading earlier protests.

KCTU boasts 700,000 members employed at more than 2,000 companies including the country's key export industries such as automakers and shipyards.

Critics say Ms Park, despite an election promise to reach out to opponents for national unity, is increasingly reliant on strong-arm tactics used by her late father Park Chung Hee, a general turned authoritarian leader who ruled the country for 18 years until he was assassinated in 1979.

The first rally on Nov 14 drew around 60,000 people and saw numerous clashes between protestors and police using water cannon.

On that occasion, Mr Baek Nam Ki, a 69-year-old farmer, fell into a coma after being knocked to the ground by a water cannon during a clash outside the Jongro District Office.