SEOUL: Tens of thousands of protesters marched in Seoul Saturday, accusing President Park Geun-Hye of sacrificing workers and farmers for large businesses and rewriting history textbooks to glorify her father’s authoritarian rule.
An estimated crowd of 30,000 people, many of them wearing masks in defiance of Park’s call for a ban on masking-wearing during protests, marched through the city center behind a banner reading “Resign Park Geun-Hye”, chanting slogans.
Police had initially banned Saturday’s rally but organizers appealed to the Seoul Administrative Court, which overturned the order, paving the way for a second massive protest in the capital in the space of a month.
The first rally on November 14 drew around 60,000 people and saw numerous clashes between protestors and police using water cannon.
On that occasion, Baek Nam-Ki, a 69-year-old farmer, fell into a coma after being knocked to the ground by a water cannon during a clash outside the Jongro District Office.
Organizers vowed to mount a peaceful demonstration this time and 300 religious figures including Buddhists, Catholics and Protestants, each carrying a flower, helped prevent protesters from crossing police lines.
While presiding over a government cabinet meeting on November 24, Park described the earlier demonstration as an attempt “to negate the rule of law and incapacitate the government”, calling for a crackdown on those who incite “illegal, violent protests”.
She also called for a ban on the wearing of masks by protesters, saying it was the sort of practice adopted by the Islamic State group, sparking angry reactions from opponents.
Park’s administration is facing mounting resentment over a range of issues including her plan to impose new history textbooks on schools, to further open the agricultural market and reform the labor market, making the dismissal of workers easier and cutting wages for older workers.
“President Park, Don’t try to turn South Korea’s national history into your family’s private history”, said a banner carried by a female student at a rally which took place outside the City Hall.
“We’re not IS, we are just poor students”, said another sign held by her colleague.
Saturday’s rally was jointly organized by groups including the militant Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), the federation of farmers’ associations known as Jeonnong, the national teachers union and the association of urban poor.
KCTU President Han Sang-Kyun said in a video message at the rally that KCTU would launch a general labor strike on December 16. Han has taken refuge at a Buddhist temple in Seoul to avoid being arrested for leading earlier protests.
KCTU boasts 700,000 members employed at more than 2,000 companies including the country’s key export industries such as automakers and shipyards.
Critics say Park, despite an election promise to reach out to opponents for national unity, is increasingly reliant on strong-arm tactics used by her late father Park Chung-Hee, a general turned authoritarian leader who ruled the country for 18 years until he was assassinated in 1979.