Sun Feb 26, 2017 7:5AM
Pro-government activists shout slogans and wave flags as they stage a rally in central Seoul, South Korea, February 25, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Pro-government activists shout slogans and wave flags as they stage a rally in central Seoul, South Korea, February 25, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Hundreds of thousands of South Koreans have staged rival mass rallies in the country’s capital of Seoul over the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye.

An estimated 800,000 demonstrators gathered at Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square in a candlelight rally on Saturday, which also marked the fourth anniversary of Park’s swearing into office, to demand her ouster over a massive corruption scandal.

Anti-government activists gather during a protest in central Seoul, February 25, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The anti-Park protesters, carrying yellow balloons and waving banners, called for the South Korean Constitutional Court to expedite the reviewing process over a parliament vote to impeach Park.

“As the country marks the fourth anniversary of President Park Geun-hye’s inauguration today, I want this unbearable administration to end. The Constitutional Court must carry out the impeachment and I hope the court shows that there is justice on this land,” a 45-year-old protester said.

The president’s supporters held their own protest in Seoul, demanding that Park’s impeachment be ruled invalid.

Pro-government activists shout slogans and wave flags as they stage a rally in central Seoul, February 25, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Some 17,000 riot police had been mobilized to ensure that the Saturday rival protests were trouble-free.

The South Korean parliament voted by a 234-56 margin in December last year to impeach Park over a scandal involving her long-time confidante, Choi Soon-sil, who is currently being tried for fraud.

Prosecutors say that the 65-year-old president had colluded with Choi in coercing large corporations into paying tens of millions of dollars in “donations” to organizations under Choi’s control, an accusation Park has adamantly dismissed.

Choi Soon-sil (C), the woman at the center of the South Korean political scandal, arrives for hearings at the Constitutional Court in Seoul, January 16, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Park currently retains her title as president but has been stripped of her presidential powers. As of December 9, 2016, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn has been the country’s acting president, assuming presidential powers and duties.

On February 27, the Constitutional Court will hold its final hearing on Park’s impeachment and the verdict is expected to be handed down before March 13.

If six of the court’s nine justices support the impeachment vote, Park would be removed permanently and a new presidential election would be held within 60 days. If not, her powers would be restored. In that case, Park would become the country’s first democratically elected leader to leave office in disgrace.

According to a Gallup Korea survey, the political scandal has sent Park’s approval rating nose-diving to an all-time low of just five percent, the lowest ever recorded for any South Korean president.