Protests grow in South Korea amid president’s corruption scandal

SEOUL, (South Korea) — Some 40,000 people staged a candlelight rally in the center of South Korean capital Seoul on Saturday – one the largest demonstrations in the city for years, demanding President Park Geun-hye step down.

Park Geun-hye addressed the nation on Friday to apologize for her close ties to a mysterious confidante named Choi Soon-sil, who edited her speeches and influenced her decisions.

“I feel a huge responsibility (for the scandal) deep in my heart,” Park said, her voice shaking. “It is all my fault and mistake.”

Park’s comments were rife with astonishing moments, and included a frank assessment of her relationship with the woman at the heart of the scandal, Choi Soon-sil, the daughter of a late cult leader and a longtime friend of Park’s.

The apology has sparked huge criticism of her oppressive leadership style and management of national information.

Thousands took to the streets in Seoul on Saturday, calling for Park to step down and blocking a 16-lane highway in the capital. Police said the crowd had 40,000 to 50,000 people; organizers said 100,000 protested.

Park is accused of letting her confidante Choi Soon-sil, who does not hold an official government post, view confidential documents and presidential speeches.

Tens of thousands of South Koreans are expected to march in Seoul to demand President Park Geun-hye’s resignation on Saturday, a day after she took blame for a “heartbreaking” scandal and rising suspicion that she allowed a mysterious confidante to manipulate power from the shadows.

Police expect around 40,000 people in what could be the largest anti-government rally in nearly a year while organizers say as many as 100,000 will turn out.

Dozens of police buses were parked in streets around City Hall and also a square in front of an old palace gate, which the police plan to close off to prevent protesters from marching toward the Blue House, the presidential office and residence.

Park has sacked many of her immediate advisers over the crisis. A former aide, Jeong Ho-seong, was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of leaking classified information, according to Reuters.

No South Korean president has ever failed to finish their five-year term, but Park has faced growing pressure from the public and political opponents to quit.

“Even though we’re just students, we feel like we can’t put up with this unreasonable society anymore so we’re participating in this protest with like-minded friends,” said Byun Woo-hyuk, an 18-year-old high school student holding a banner calling on the president to resign.