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Impeachment rallies, pro and anti, peter out

Mar 13,2017
이미지뷰
Left: Anti-Park Geun-hye forces celebrate the Constitutional Court’s decision to permanently remove Park from office for corruption with fireworks in Gwanghwamun Square, central Seoul, Saturday. Right: Park supporters protest the court’s decision in Seoul Plaza Saturday, calling for an annulment of the judges’ unanimous decision to remove Park from office. [OH JONG-TAEK, CHO MUN-GYU]
Rallies celebrating or protesting the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye died down over the weekend.

On Sunday, only a few sparse pro-Park rallies were seen around her residence in Samseong-dong, southern Seoul. Hundreds of people waved the flags of South Korea and the United States and hung banners that read “Welcome home President Park Geun-hye.”

On Saturday, the day after the Constitutional Court permanently removed Park from office, the pro-Park, flag-waving protesters in central Seoul were fewer than organizers had hoped for.

Authorities dispatched 16,500 police officers to the Seoul Plaza and Gwanghwamun Square area, expecting scuffles or worse violence between the pro- and anti-Park protesters.

Organizers said some 700,000 pro-Park protesters gathered, but local media outlets estimated only a few thousand. The anti-Park candlelight vigil was attended by 650,000, according to its organizers.

On Friday, a few thousand gathered at pro-Park rallies near the Constitutional Court, according to local media reports. Later in the evening, as many as 30,000 anti-Park protesters celebrated the court’s decision in Gwanghwamun Square, according to the rally organizers.

On Friday, two men participating in the pro-Park rallies were confirmed dead by local authorities. A protester in his 70s died Saturday, according to police. The cause of his death was not known on Sunday.

The buses that transported pro-Park protesters from all over the country into central Seoul were rarely seen Saturday.

“I think the rallies for and against Park have lost momentum after the court pronounced its decision yesterday,” said a police officer stationed at the rallies Saturday.

Pro-Park protesters at the rally Saturday held placards that read, “Annul the impeachment!”

“The impeachment was a conspiracy and a rebellion,” an organizer of the rally told the crowd over a loudspeaker. “We cannot accept the impeachment, a decision that is wholly unconstitutional.”

Kim Pyung-woo, one of Park’s defense lawyers, called the court’s decision “a conspiracy to usurp the country’s foundation and replace it with North Korean founder Kim Il Sung’s Juche ideology.”

Some protesters wore black ribbons.

“The court’s decision is a disaster for the country, and I am mourning,” said a middle-aged woman.

Pro-Park rally organizers repeatedly told protesters to practice non-violence during the rally.

“We regret the deaths of the protesters and return to our ways of nonviolent protest,” a rally organizer said in a speech in front of the Daehanmun gate of Deoksu Palace. “Also, please keep in mind that reporters on the scene are not our enemies.”

According to the Journalists Association of Korea, some 20 reporters and photojournalists were attacked by protesters while reporting on the pro-Park rally Friday.

At least one photographer was hit on the head with a step-ladder and other suffered injuries to their heads, stomachs and arms. Some camera and reporting devices were destroyed in scuffles.

The association and the National Union of Media Workers protested in front of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency on Friday and requested disciplinary actions against violent protesters.

Pro-Park protesters on Saturday shouted at reporters but didn’t attack them physically.

Despite the protesters’ disagreement with the court’s decision, it seemed apparent many were accepting the decision as irreversible.

“There is no time to be sad and disappointed over the decision,” said Rep. Kim Jin-tae of the Liberty Korea Party on stage in front of the Daehanmun gate. “Let’s focus our energy on winning the next presidential election in 59 days!”

Meanwhile, the candlelight vigils, held weekly from October to demand the ouster of Park for abuse of power and corruption, held its final rally on Saturday.

The anti-Park rally began at 4 p.m. in Gwanghwamun Square with a moment of silence dedicated to the deaths of the three pro-Park protesters.

Cheers erupted as a rally organizer shouted, “The people and the candles have won!”

Protesters held pickets that read “Arrest Park immediately!” and “Justice has been delivered!”

The King Sejong statue at the center of the square was surrounded by floral displays.

“I am thankful to the Constitutional Court, which has heeded the voice of the people and delivered a judgment Park deserves,” said Ahn Soo-yeong, 34.

“This is a moment to remember in history,” said Lee Man-soo, a 50-year-old who was participating in the rally with his son, a college student. “The people have peacefully ousted a president who has violated the Constitution.”

According to rally organizers on Saturday, as many as 16 million people participated in the 20 anti-Park rallies throughout the country in the past 134 days, the largest rally participation since the 2008 anti-U.S. beef protests.

“The rallies have triumphed,” said Kim Jung-hyun, 46.

“We can now return to our normal lives.”

BY SUNG HO-JUN, KANG KI-HEON [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]