SEOUL — Tens of thousands of protestors braved icy weather and slippery roads for a rally in Seoul Saturday, demanding impeached President Park Geun-hye’s removal and the Samsung heir’s arrest for corruption. Park was impeached by parliament last month over an influence-peddling scandal and the Constitutional Court now must confirm the impeachment. Protestors chanted slogans demanding the arrest of Park and business tycoons including Lee Jae-yong, heir to the Samsung empire, calling them “co-culprits” in the scandal. Organizers put the size of the crowd at 150,000.
A South Korean court has refused to authorize the arrest of Lee, accused of bribing Choi Soon-sil, Park’s confidante at the center of the scandal, in return for favors. It cited lack of sufficient evidence. The political turmoil has brought huge numbers onto South Korea’s streets every Saturday for the past three months, urging the court to verify Park’s impeachment and calling for her immediate departure from office. She is accused of colluding with Choi to extract money from large companies including Samsung and letting her friend meddle in a wide range of state affairs. “Arrest Park and Lee Jae-yong immediately,” protesters chanted loudly, waving banners and brandishing candles during the evening rally in the capital. “I was shocked and very angry. The court knelt down before Samsung,” Agnes Choi, 51, told AFP. “This shows the business empire is above the law,” she said. A 71-year-old retired teacher, Kim Tae-won, said the court had missed “a good chance to teach a lesson for the country’s corrupt business tycoons.” Nearby, around 10,000 pro-Park supporters staged a rally protesting Park’s impeachment.
Police mobilized dozens of police vehicles and hundreds of officers to separate the two rival groups. Earlier Saturday, prosecutors arrested Park’s culture minister and her former top presidential adviser over allegations that they blacklisted artists critical of the government.
Culture Minister Cho Yoon-sun and ex-presidential chief of staff Kim Ki-choon allegedly drew up the list of thousands of artists and cultural figures to be excluded from government funding programs. Three other top former officials have already been arrested over the allegation.
The arrests of Cho and Kim came as the Seoul Central District Court approved prosecutors’ request to arrest them for alleged abuse of power and other charges.
The blacklist allegation surfaced as authorities widened their investigations into the explosive political scandal that led to Park’s impeachment in Parliament last month. The Constitutional Court is holding a trial before ruling on whether to formally end Park’s presidency or restore her authority.
Cho resigned hours after she was arrested, and it was accepted by the prime minister, who has had the powers of the president since Park’s impeachment.
Park has faced criticism that she tried to curb free speech and labor rights as president. Her government’s alleged backlist reportedly included “Oldboy” film director Park Chan-wook and poet Ko Un, who is often considered a contender for the Nobel prize in literature.