Critics of South Korea’s ousted Park call for her arrest
SEOUL – Opponents of South Korea’s ousted leader, Park Geun-hye, demanded on Saturday that she be arrested a day after she was thrown out of office over a corruption scandal involving the country’s conglomerates.
Park’s critics said they would rally in central Seoul, where they have been gathering every weekend for months, while the former president’s conservative supporters also planned protests, raising the risk of confrontation.
The Constitutional Court ruling on Friday to uphold a parliamentary vote to impeach Park infuriated hundreds of her supporters, two of whom were killed as they tried to break through police lines outside the court. A third man, a 74-year-old, had a heart attack and died on Saturday, a hospital said.
Protesters were setting up a stage beside a major avenue in central Seoul early on Saturday, and groups of police were on the streets, but the situation was calm.
“We demand the arrest of Park Geun-hye and the resignation of acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn,” said Choi In-sook, a spokeswoman for protesters opposed to Park, told Reuters.
Prime Minister Hwang, a Park loyalist, became acting president when parliament voted to impeach her on Dec. 9.
Hwang called for calm on Friday and promised that a snap presidential election, which has to be held within 60 days, would be smooth.
Park is South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be forced from office. Her ouster followed months of political paralysis and turmoil over a corruption scandal that also landed the head of the Samsung conglomerate in jail and facing trial.
Park did not appear in court on Friday and did not make any comment after the ruling. She spent the night in the presidential Blue House residence though would leave at some time, and return to her Seoul residence, a spokesman said.
The chairman of the National Election Commission, Kim Yong-deok, said in a televised address the vote would be free and fair and held by May 9 at the latest. He said he was concerned differences could lead to an “overheated” atmosphere and called on the public to overcome “conflict”.
Park’s supporters want her to stay in power. Some want the court decision overturned and her case heard again by new judges.
“We strongly request the trial is held again,” said Chung Kwang Yong, a spokesman for the protest organisers.
Another Park supporter, Vietnam War veteran C.S. Kim, asked about the violence on Friday, said police had been “over-protective”. He said Park’s supporters were driven by their patriotism.
FALL FROM GRACE
The court ruling marked a dramatic fall from grace of South Korea’s first woman president and daughter of Cold War military dictator Park Chung-hee, both of whose parents were assassinated.
Park, 65, no longer has immunity as president, and could now face criminal charges over bribery, extortion and abuse of power in connection with allegations of conspiring with her friend, Choi Soon-sil.
A liberal candidate, Moon Jae-in, is leading in opinion polls to succeed Park, with 32 percent in one released on Friday.
Relations with China and the United States could dominate the presidential campaign, after South Korea this month began deployment of the U.S. THAAD missile defence system in response to North Korea’s stepped up missile and nuclear tests.
Beijing has vigorously protested against the deployment, fearing its radar could see into its missile deployments. China has curbed travel to South Korea and targeted Korean companies in the mainland, prompting retaliatory measures from Seoul.
Reform of the country’s giant conglomerates, known as “chaebol”, will also be an election issue. Park was accused of soliciting bribes from the head of the Samsung Group, the country’s largest conglomerate, for government favours.
Samsung Group leader Jay Y. Lee has been accused of bribery and embezzlement in connection with the scandal and is in detention. His trial began on Thursday. He and Samsung have denied wrongdoing. -Reuters