Over one million South Koreans have taken to the streets of Seoul and other provincial cities to demand the resignation of scandal-hit President Park Geun-hye, protest organisers have claimed.
In one of the largest anti-government protests in decades, organisers said around 1.5 million people rallied in the capital Seoul on Saturday, while 400,000 people demonstrated in provincial cities.
Parents, children, university students and Buddhist monks were among those protesting for a fifth straight week, demanding that Park step down.
People beat drums and chanted “Park, get out now” as they walked towards the presidential Blue House that had been cordoned off by thousands of police.
“I came here because I wanted to show my children that people are the owner of this country, not the power holders,” Shim Kyu-Il, a 47-year-old company employee, told the AFP news agency.
Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from Seoul, said the protest was among the largest the country had seen, and may have eclipsed the million-plus protest two weeks ago .
“If verified, this is the biggest protest in South Korean history, never mind in the course of this particular scandal,” he said.
Park has issued public apologies over the influence-peddling scandal involving her long-time confidante Choi Soon-Sil, who has been arrested for fraud and abuse of power, but has defied repeated calls to resign.
Choi is also accused of interfering in government affairs, despite holding no official position.
The 60-year-old allegedly leveraged her relationship with Park to coerce donations from conglomerates, including SK, Lotte and Samsung, to non-profit foundations which she set up and used for personal gain.
“Park has presidential immunity while she is in office from the criminal case surrounding Choi, but the opposition is now saying they will move to impeach her next Friday or the Friday after – they will make the motion on Thursday and the vote would happen on Friday,” our correspondent added.
If parliament passes the impeachment motion, Park will be suspended from official duties and replaced by the prime minister. The Constitutional Court would need to approve the impeachment.
“Even though the Constitutional Court is deemed conservative, they would be unable to defy the people’s wish to oust Park”, Kang Won-Taek, a political science professor at the Seoul National University, told the AFP.
Park’s approval ratings have plunged to a record low for a sitting president, as top advisers and some of South Korea’s most powerful companies are caught up in the ever-widening scandal.
The headquarters of SK, Lotte and Samsung were raided by state prosecutors this week, along with the offices of the finance ministry and state pension fund.
According to the AFP, a poll this week indicated that nine out of 10 South Koreans want Park kicked out of office.