SEOUL • South Korean President Park Geun Hye faced mounting pressure to step down yesterday as hundreds of thousands of demonstrators marched in the capital to protest against allegations that she let a friend meddle in state affairs.
The rally in downtown Seoul was the largest so far in a crisis engulfing Ms Park, 64, and organisers said about 850,000 people packed streets running through the city centre including a 12-lane thoroughfare. Police estimated the crowd at 260,000.
Students, families including young couples pushing strollers and protesters in wheelchairs were among the crowd during the peaceful march, which contrasted with the violence of some previous rallies dominated by militant unions and civic groups that clashed with police. One man travelled seven hours from the southern town of Gimhae to join the rally demanding Ms Park step down a year before her mandate is due to end.
"Park Geun Hye! Today! Step down! Immediately! Step down! Now!" protesters chanted a few hundred metres from the presidential Blue House.
"I'm here so that this country will be a better place for my daughters," said Ms Park Min Hee, 34, a housewife who was at the rally with her two young daughters and her husband's parents. "Park Geun Hye did wrong. She must step down right now."
Students, families including young couples pushing strollers and protesters in wheelchairs were among the crowd during the peaceful march, which contrasted with the violence of some previous rallies dominated by militant unions and civic groups that clashed with police.
It was the third weekend protest rally since President Park's first public apology on Oct 25, when she admitted she had sought the advice of her friend Choi Soon Sil.
Ms Park's acknowledgement only served to fuel public anger and suspicion over the secret confidante, who apparently held no official government position.
Another apology by Ms Park and an offer to work with the parliamentary opposition to form a new Cabinet and relinquish some power also failed to quell the crisis, prompting opponents to say she did not grasp its severity.
Ms Park has dismissed some of her most senior and closest advisers, and former aides have been arrested on charges of abuse of power. Ms Choi, the friend who is believed to have been acquainted with the President since the 1970s, has been charged with abuse of power and fraud.
Members of main opposition parties joined the rally yesterday, suggesting there is growing support in parliament for action to remove her from power, although there has been no formal move yet to launch impeachment proceedings.
No South Korean president has ever failed to finish their five-year term. Ms Park's approval rating has dropped to 5 per cent for a second week, according to a poll conducted by Gallup Korea and released last Friday.