Candles become torches as 1.9 million gather to call for Pres. Park’s resignation

For fifth consecutive week, cities across South Korea and the world see large, peaceful cultural demonstrations

Thirty thousand candles lit up Cheonggyecheon Plaza in central Seoul on Oct. 29. A month later on Nov. 26, 2016, the candles had become torches.

It was the fifth time the candles were lit to call for President Park Geun-hye’s resignation, and this time 1.9 million people (according to the organizers’ estimates) came from Seoul, Busan, Gwangju, Daegu, and all over South Korea for the biggest demonstration in the country’s history. Candlelight rallies for Park’s resignation also took place in 20 countries and 50 regions around the world. It was not only the people in the streets, either – candles also burned in the hearts of all the people watching live from home or work as minute-long lights-out and honking demonstrations were held at 8 pm.

For five weeks, demonstrations have been held each weekend, rewriting history every time.

First, there’s the sheer scale. The 30,000 who came to Cheonggyecheon Plaza on Oct. 29 had jumped to 200,000 in Seoul and 300,000 nationwide by Nov. 5. On Nov. 12, demonstrators totalled one million, the most since the June Democratization Movement of 1987. On Nov. 19, 600,000 demonstrated in Seoul and one million nationwide, but it still set a record for the biggest simultaneous demonstration around the country, with around 70 places participating.

For Nov. 26, the organizers estimated 1.5 million people had gone to Gwanghwmun Square in central Seoul by 9:40 pm, with another 100,000 taking to streets in Busan, 70,000 in Gwangju, and 40,000 in Daegu, for a total of 400,000 more. (Police estimated 270,000 for Seoul and 50,000 for the rest of the country.) It was the biggest demonstration in history.

Numbers aren’t everything, of course. But with the Blue House continuing to hold out despite President Park’s 4% approval rating – as if hoping the public will tire out – it is notable that people are gathering longer and more tenaciously than ever. Nov. 26 saw particularly bad weather, with snow and rainfall around the country, including Seoul’s first snow of the year. But people came out in padded cold-weather clothes to spur each other on and hold down the demonstration sight amid the “snow of resignation.” In places like Cheongju and Daegu, the turnout of citizens exceeded even the organizers’ expectations.

Citizens chant for President Park Geun-hye to resign, at the fifth weekly public demonstration calling on Park to step down over the Choi Sun-sil scandal, at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul, Nov. 26. (by Kim Myoung-jin, staff photographer)

More noteworthy still is the change in the messages spoken by rally participants. What started last month as denunciations of government interference by President Park’s confidante Choi Sun-sil has turned rapidly since then into demands for Park to resign immediately and get out of politics. Participants are becoming more emboldened rather than exhausted with each new demonstration.

For Nov. 26, citizens held a large-scale march near the Cheongwoon Hyojadong Community Service Center, chanting “seven hours, step down” and “indict her for bribery” just a few hundred meters from the Blue House.

“Today is the fourth time I’ve come out, and I just get more and more frustrated every time I see the way President Park Geun-hye has responded and acted,” said Sim Jae-ho, 24. “But as I see so many people coming together more and more, I feel disappointed with the President but hopeful about the public.”

“Even if it gets colder, I’m going to keep coming out every time until we see this through,” Sim promised.

Kim Jae-ju, 66, was attending from Yangpyeong. “I couldn’t just stay home. I thought to myself, ‘What kind of country is this?’” Kim said. “What gives me hope is all the young people who have come out. Even if it looks like the Blue House isn’t going to budge, we need to keep showing how angry the public is until [Park] resigns.”

After finishing their march in Seoul’s Cheongwoon neighborhood, citizens began getting up to speak as part of another two-day demonstration launched at 11 pm. The square was filled with cries of anger at an unjust society and demands for “politicians and leaders who have a healthy fear of their public.” Along with the weekend demonstrations, a growing movement in daily life is afoot to push for Park’s resignation , with university students and workers announcing and carrying out class boycotts and strikes.

For the first time, torches made an appearance at the front of the march heading toward the Cheongwoon Hyojadong Community Service Center 200 meters from the Blue House. For a Blue House holding out despite 96% of the public insisting it cannot wait another day for Park to resign, the candlelight spirit is now truly becoming a torch.

By Heo Seung, Park Su-ji and Kim Kyu-nam

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