South Koreans have taken to the streets to call for President Park to resign over her role in a corruption scandal. A secretive confidante was recently arrested for abuse of power.
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Seoul on Saturday for the fifth consecutive weekend of protests calling for the resignation of South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
Protestors wearing raincoats and holding umbrellas braved sleet and freezing temperatures with demands Park resign over a corruption scandal or face impeachment.
By the evening, organizers counted 1.3 million people in the march, which included parents and their children, university students and Buddhist monks. Police reported 260,000 participants.
Police stationed 25,000 officers across the city and blocked roads leading to the presidential Blue House.
Protest leaders expect a further 500,000 people to take to the streets in provincial cities.
Numbers are very difficult to count with some agencies using mobile phone wifi and bluetooth signals to quantify numbers
"I don't think Park would step down voluntarily, but we need to raise our voice as much as possible to encourage parliament to push through with its move to impeach her," Lee Seung-Cheol, a 23-year-old student, told the AFP news agency.
People handed out food, placards and leaflets to the festive gathering. Street vendors sold candles and chairs as some protestors danced to music coming from loudspeakers.
"I came here because I wanted to show my children that people are the owners of this country, not the power holders," said Shim Kyu-Il, a 47-year-old company employee.
The massive, largely peaceful, weekend protests have grown over the past month. Two weeks ago an estimated 1 million people filled the city center's major avenues in some of the largest demonstrations seen in South Korea since the pro-democracy protests of the 1980s.
Abuse of power
Park has been accused of aiding the criminal activities of her long-time, secretive confidante Choi Soon-Sil, who was recently arrested for fraud and abuse of power.
Choi, 60, is accused of manipulating government affairs and leveraging her influence with Park to extort companies such as SK, Lotte and Samsung.
Park apologized over the scandal, but she has defied calls to step down even as her approval ratings sink to a record low for a sitting president.
Parliament could vote as early as next week to impeach Park as a growing number of ruling party politicians back an opposition-led campaign to oust her.
If successfully impeached Park would 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 of the Seoul National University, told AFP.
aw/sms (AFP, AP)