South Korea deploys thousands of police officers ahead of planned mass protest against Park in Seoul

A group of artists clashing with police during an anti-government demonstration calling for the resignation of South Korea's president Park Geun Hye, in central Seoul, on Nov 4, 2016.
A group of artists clashing with police during an anti-government demonstration calling for the resignation of South Korea's president Park Geun Hye, in central Seoul, on Nov 4, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korean police deployed thousands of officers on Saturday (Nov 5) ahead of a planned mass protest calling for embattled President Park Geun Hye to resign over a crippling corruption scandal.

Despite a tearful televised apology to the nation by Ms Park on Friday (Nov 4), in which she agreed to be questioned in a formal corruption probe, some 40,000 protesters are expected to turn out at the rally in central Seoul.

Police have banned the protesters from marching through the streets, citing traffic congestion, but there is a possibility demonstrators will try to make their way towards the presidential Blue House and 20,000 officers have been deployed.

In a highly personal televised address to the nation Friday, Ms Park said the scandal involving her long-time confidante Choi Soon Sil was "all my fault", but denied reports linking her and Ms Choi to a religious cult.

A formal investigation is focused on allegations that Ms Choi, 60, leveraged her close relationship with Ms Park to coerce local firms into donating large sums to dubious non-profit foundations that she then used for personal gain.

Ms Choi was formally arrested on Thursday (Nov 3) on charges of fraud and abuse of power, but public anger has largely focused on allegations that she meddled in affairs of state and had access to confidential documents, despite having no official position or security clearance.

The South Korean media has portrayed Ms Choi, whose late father was a shadowy religious leader and an important mentor to Ms Park, as a Rasputin-like figure who wielded an unhealthy influence over the president.

Reacting to her address, the main opposition Democratic Party insisted her changes had been cosmetic and warned that it would begin a campaign for her ouster unless further steps were taken.

Ms Park is unlikely to step down, with analysts suggesting she will limp on to the end of her term with her power severely undermined at a time of slowing economic growth, rising unemployment and elevated military tensions with North Korea.