Out of the Darkness: Protests in South Korea

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Nov. 26 was the fifth consecutive Saturday protestors have joined the streets of South Korea’s capital, Seoul, to demonstrate in opposition to the president. Crowds have been calling for President Park Geun-hye to resign after she allegedly assisted close family friends in committing extortion.

Images of President Park’s face have been spread all over South Korea on urinals and been used to deface public property. Her face has also been portrayed dripping blood in portraits of the protests. What began as protests against Park have escalated to a nationwide demand for her immediate resignation.

Protestors claim that Park has been sharing classified documents with her close friend, Choi Soon-sil. Choi’s father, Choi Tae-min, founded a religious cult after converting to Roman Catholicism and after having been a Buddhist monk. He mentored Park after she rose to power when her father, former military dictator Park Chung-hee, passed away in 1994.

When he was alive, Choi Tae-min was accused of using his mentoring position to bribe members of the government. Now, allegations have arisen that his daughter has also been using her long-time friendship with Park to influence national policy.

Choi was indicted on accounts of taking over $70 million from the chaebol, who control South Korea’s economy, which subsequently has a significant influence on the government and the country’s politics. The chaebol includes widely known company names like Hyundai, LG, and Samsung. Samsung offices were searched after it was suggested that the government approved of a union that resulted in large sums of money being “donated” to a foundation of Choi’s. In addition, money was also given to her daughter’s equestrian school as a result of this merger.

According to Time Magazine, “what began as a protest against alleged corruption at the highest level has morphed into a general indictment of the ills of Korean society.” Based on a recent survey, 88 percent of respondents considered moving “to another country due to a sluggish economy, distrust in the government and a lack of social mobility.” In addition to the country’s overall economic dissatisfaction, inhabitants are also concerned with the sexism and social restrictions plaguing South Korea.

Despite the general dissatisfaction of South Korea’s inhabitants, “demonstrations have been peaceful and almost festive,” according to The New York Times. One of the chants recorded was taken from South Korea’s own constitution, saying: “The Republic of Korea shall be a democratic republic.”

Since Park cannot be prosecuted while she still holds the office position, she has refused to resign, despite the increasing number of people taking to the streets. She has offered apologies about the accusations to the public on two separate occasions, yet the scandal continues to cause tension. Demonstrators are continuously calling for impeachment, even though in the history of South Korea no president has ever been impeached.

The New York Times reports that recently a “group of demonstrators was stopped just 200 yards from the presidential compound.” Police forces have been sent to form a barrier between the presidential compound and the protestors.

Demonstrators carried candles into the streets, then proceeded to blow them out to “symbolize the darkness into which, they said, Ms. Park has led the country,” states The New York Times.

One protestor, teacher Cho Mi-sun, believes Park cannot resign soon enough: “We cannot wait even one day […] She’s not normal and too dangerous to rule this country.”

 

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