Sat Feb 11, 2017 6:45PM
Anti-government protesters attend a rally in central Seoul, South Korea, February 11, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Anti-government protesters attend a rally in central Seoul, South Korea, February 11, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Hundreds of thousands of people have staged rallies in the South Korean capital, Seoul, either to support impeachment of President Park Geun-hye or express their dissent against the move, several months after the desperate leader was engulfed in a power-peddling scandal.

Some 50,000 pro-Park demonstrators took to the streets in central Seoul on Saturday to show their solidarity with the South Korean president, a rally that was largely dwarfed by about 500,000 anti-government protesters, who convened outside the City Hall, demanding her immediate ouster.

Lawmakers impeached Park last December over a major corruption scandal, in which she allegedly colluded to pressure major corporations to contribute money to non-profit foundations controlled by Choi Soon-sil, her longtime confidante.

Park, now temporarily suspended from power, has denied misconduct in the case but nevertheless apologized for being careless in her ties with Choi.

If the Constitutional Court approves the impeachment vote, Park will become the first elected president in the country to be forced out of office. If it does not confirm the vote, Park is allowed to see out her five-year term, which began in February 2013.

Pro-government demonstrators holding US and South Korean flags shout slogans as they attend a rally in central Seoul, South Korea, February 11, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The scandal, and its ensuing political turmoil, has already triggered growing economic and social frustrations and brought millions of people onto the streets in weekly rallies.

Anti-government demonstrators, holding candles in the cold weather, shouted, “Arrest Park Geun-hye” and “Stop delaying verdict on impeachment.”

The pro-Park marchers, however, alleged that the persisting scandal was a work of “pro-North Korea” leftists, calling on the court to turn the impeachment vote down and restore power to the president. The rally was largely composed of elderly people, who grew up under Park’s father, Park Chung-hee, South Korea’s former ruler. He is commonly credited with the country’s swift industrialization.

The court gave Park’s attorneys until Thursday to put forward their arguments in writing. It is speculated that the court might reach a verdict in March. If it confirms last December’s impeachment, new presidential election would have to be held within two months.