South Korean protesters demand ouster, arrest of President Park Geun Hye for 6th straight week

SEOUL (AFP) - Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched in Seoul for the sixth-straight week on Saturday (Dec 3) to demand the ouster and arrest of scandal-hit President Park Geun Hye ahead of an impeachment vote in parliament.

The latest in a series of massive anti-Park demonstrations in the South Korean capital came just hours after opposition parties filed an impeachment motion that will be put to a vote by lawmakers on Friday.

Whether the motion is adopted or not, Park is firmly on course to become the first democratically-elected South Korean president not to complete a full, five-year term.

The 64-year-old stands accused of colluding with an old friend who has been formally indicted for attempted fraud and abuse of power.

The only real questions that remain are precisely when she will go, and whether she will step down or be removed.

The protesters who have taken to the streets in their millions in recent weeks want her out immediately, but the political establishment is struggling to find a similar unity of purpose.

The impeachment motion introduced in the early hours of Saturday morning carried 171 signatures - accounting for every legislator from the three opposition parties and independents.

In order to secure the two-thirds majority required for impeachment in the 300-seat national assembly, it will need the support of more than two-dozen lawmakers from Park's ruling Saenuri Party.

Just a week ago, the backing of enough Saenuri rebels seemed assured, but a rather confused resignation offer by Park on Tuesday strengthened the hand of her loyalists who insist she be allowed to step down voluntarily.

The party has since proposed she resign in April - a timeline it justifies as more conducive to a calm and steady preparation for an early presidential election.

Observers say the Saenuri rebels are likely to fall in line with the proposal and vote against the motion on Friday.

The prospect of an April departure for Park will do little to assuage the public anger that has driven the mass protests in Seoul and other cities.

"I no longer believe a word the president or her party says," said bank employee Kim Hak Won who was marching Saturday with his teenage daughter.

"How can we tell our children to respect the law when our own president refuses to do so?" Kim said.

Along with the now-normal slogans for Park to step down, there were growing calls for her to face criminal charges, arrest and imprisonment.

One life-size cut-out of the president showed her wearing jail uniform and bound by ropes.

There was also widespread anger with the Saenuri party over what were seen as its efforts to block the impeachment process.

"I am so full of rage right now, I could set fire to the party headquarters," said 30-year-old office worker Park Sung Jin.

But even if impeachment were approved by the assembly on Friday, Park would likely remain in office for some considerable time.

An adopted motion would still require approval of the Constitutional Court - a process that could take up to six months.

Saturday's mass rally was set to culminate in a candlelit march to the presidential Blue House, with police allowing protesters within 100 meters of the complex housing Park's residence and offices.

Around 20,000 police officers were deployed to control the crowds, with organisers putting initial turnout at around 500,000.

A similar rally the previous week drew what organisers claimed was a record 1.5 million people. Police put the number at 270,000.

The scandal that has engulfed Park and paralysed her administration has focused on her friendship with long-time confidante Choi Soon Sil.

Choi has been charged with meddling in state affairs and using her Blue House connections to force dozens of conglomerates to donate around US$70 million to two foundations she controlled.

In a first for a sitting South Korean president, Park has been named a "suspect" by prosecutors investigating Choi.

As president, Park cannot be charged with a criminal offence except insurrection or treason, but she would lose that immunity once she steps down.