Protesters are blocked by police at Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul as they attempt to march toward the Blue House, Oct. 29. (by Kim Bong-kyu, staff photographer)
Police with mild response as multiple generations fed up with Choi Sun-sil scandal come out to public gatherings to vent their frustration As many as 30,000 people (12,000 according to police estimates) gathered at Seoul’s Cheonggye Plaza and Gwanghwamun Square on Oct. 29 to demand President Park Geun-hye’s resignation and the formation of a national Cabinet.
Titled the “Get Together! Get Angry! #Resign_ParkGeunhye Citizens’ Candlelight Assembly,” the event brought together a wide range of citizens, from middle and high school students attending their first demonstration to mothers holding the hands of their young children and middle-age citizens who voted for Park in the 2012 presidential election. What brought them to the plazas, candles in hand?
“Angriest about Jung Yu-ra’s improper university admission”
High school students carry a sign reading, “We have only 20 days until we have to take the university entrance exam, but were so shocked we couldn’t stay put,” at a rally at Cheonggye Square in central Seoul on Oct. 29. (via Twitter user @domuzy)
On that day, voices of desperation rang louder than those of anger.
“For one thing, I came because I thought I should participate in the rally,” said Lee Sang-rae, 48, who arrived with his wife and elementary school-age daughter. “It’s my first since graduating university. I’m baffled and very angry. That’s not the power the public entrusted her with, to wave around with her confidants however she wants in back rooms. I wanted to show how many people feel that was wrong.”
Many pointed to the dodgy admission of Choi Sun-sil‘s daughter Jung Yu-ra to Ewha Womans University as their reason for going to the rally.
“Ms. Choi’s daughter earned credits with an incomprehensible report,” said Yun Jong-hwa, a 16-year-old high school student from Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province. “We can’t make it into the university she did no matter how hard we study - it makes it all feel so pointless, like there’s no point to studying. We’ve found out how tilted the playing field really is. When injustice becomes law, it’s your obligation to fight.”
A fortysomething resident of Seoul’s Jongno district surnamed Yang said it was “my first time coming out to any demonstration. What makes me angriest is Jung Yu-ra’s improper admission to Ewha Womans University. Children can‘t even get hired when their parents are both working hard to earn money to teach them, but with Choi they changed the school rules to let her daughter in unjustly to a good school like Ewha.”
“Sorry to my kids that I voted for Park Geun-hye”
Protesters hold placards and shout slogans calling for President Park's resignation at Seoul’s Cheonggye Plaza on Oct. 29. (Yonhap News)
Calls for Park’s resignation also rang forcefully. Jeong Da-woon, 34, came from Ilsan in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, pushing her son in a stroller.
“What does it say when I came here with my children? It’s beyond anger, beyond disappointment - I came here because I couldn’t stomach the feeling of despair. The country was under the rule of some eminence grise. In common sense terms, it‘s difficult to comprehend the idea of everything being coordinated, from policies to appointments and even cultural content.
"President Park was at the forefront of the crimes. She has to resign."
Lee Ji-su, 40, who came with her children from Paju, Gyeonggi Province, said she had voted for Park in the 2012 election.
"I voted for her because I believed she’d do a good job, but all my belief came crashing down after this," Lee said. "It’s going to take more than firing Blue House secretaries to fix this. The President is directly involved. It’s time for her to resign.
“There are more than 200,000 members in the ‘Ilsan Moms Cafe,’ and all of them wanted to come out to the demonstration. Not one of them supported the administration.”
Lee Eun-mi, 60, came from Seoul’s Gwanak district with her son, his wife, and her elementary-school age granddaughter.
“I was a supporter of President Park, and now I feel more than just regret - I feel betrayed,” she said. “I’m so sorry to my children. I’ve been paying my taxes diligently, and those taxes were used by these unelected power brokers for their own gains. Can they really deceive the public like this?”
Lee was waving a sign bearing the words “Park Geun-hye, step down.”
Police with unusual thanking of demonstrators
A protester offers a flower to police officers during a rally calling for President Park's resignation, in central Seoul, Oct. 29. (by Kim Bong-kyu, staff photographer)
The police were also quite different from usual in their response to the rally. On Oct. 30, they sent out a press release expressing gratitude to the demonstrators. In a press release titled “The Police’s Position on the Demonstration of [Oct.] 29th,” the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency noted that “the number of ordinary citizens and other participants increased yesterday when the march deviated from its reported course to Gwanghwamun Square, and some scuffling occurred between demonstrators and police in the process of preventing that.” At the same time, it also said, “We offer our thanks for the demonstrators following the police’s guidance and cooperating in a reasonable way, and we look forward to a law-abiding assembly and demonstration culture establishing itself with a mature civic consciousness in the future.”
The police press release also noted the broadcasting of a message to demonstrators the previous day from Jongno Police Station chief Hong Wan-seon, who asked them to “show as mature a civic consciousness in assemblies and demonstrations as you are concerned about the country.”
The issuing of a police press release expressing gratitude toward participants in an “illegal” assembly is highly unusual. Shortly after the popular indignation rally on Nov. 14, 2015, where farmer Baek Nam-ki was struck with a water cannon jet, the press release said police would “pursue judicial measures against all instigators of the illegal and violent demonstration in the city center and hold them sternly accountable.”
“The situation now is one where the Blue House can’t present any clear guidelines on responding to demonstrations,” said a police officer. “From the standpoint of the SMPA chief with responsibility for managing the demonstration, it‘s a difficult situation where an incident due to a heavy-handed response could result in the administration coming down. They now have to respond to demonstrations in a ‘fuzzy’ way.”
Indeed, police cordons set up at the demonstration site the day before were easily broken by demonstrators.
“We’re humans too. It‘s only natural,” a police officer at the scene told the Hankyoreh.
The Popular Indignation Struggle Headquarters is currently planning additional demonstrations on Nov. 5 and 12 to call for Park’s resignation.
By Ko Han-sol and Park Soo-jin, staff reporters
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