Divided nation marks Independence Movement Day

Divided nation marks Independence Movement Day

Marking Independence Movement Day, millions of South Koreans poured onto the streets, turning central Seoul into a sea of national flags Wednesday. But this time, the nation is deeply divided, protesting for and against President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment.

As the Constitutional Court is set to rule on whether to unseat or reinstate the scandal-ridden president in early March, tension between pro-Park and anti-Park factions has reached a peak and their rhetoric has become fiercer.

Anti-Park protesters holding national flags in their hands claimed that her ouster is crucial to salvage the nation, while Park’s loyal supporters argued that impeachment should be rejected to inherit the legacy of the independence fighters.

“It was hard enough to get back this country from Japan and achieve democracy. But then it is sad to see this sharp division within the country when it is already the world’s only divided country,” said Min Sun-hong, 44, who brought two children to the anti-Park rally. “I hope the court rapidly put an end to this chaos by upholding the impeachment.”

Wednesday marked the nation’s Independence Movement day when South Koreans staged a nonviolence protest across the nation and waved the nation flag against Japan’s colonial rule 98 years ago. It eventually led to independence from Japan in 1945.

South Koreans protesting against Park held a candlelight vigil in Gwanghwamun Square in the evening, demanding the court uphold the impeachment to save the country’s hard-won democracy.

Anti-President Park Geun-hye protestors wave national flags, demanding her ouster, during the rally held Wednesday in central Seoul. (Yonhap)

Despite the drizzle, an estimated 300,000 people joined the rally as of 8 p.m., according to the rally organizers.

This time, many of the anti-Park protestors also waved national flags, attached with a yellow ribbon to pay respect to the victims of the Sewol ferry sinking in 2014. They have so far held up only candles in a sign of defiance.

“It has been a disgrace for our national flag to be carried for the wrong and unjust cause at the pro-Park rallies,” said Chung Kwang-il in his 50s, holding a big flag in his hands. “The true spirit of the independence movement, which has taught us to fight injustice, is being upheld by candle-holding protestors.”

The national flag has largely been seen as a symbol of the pro-Park rally as Park’s supporters have vehemently wthe Korean flags during their rallies, which also received criticism for misusing it to serve their own political agenda.

The Korea Liberation Association, comprising of independence fighters and their descendants, asked for respect for the national flag, a symbol of the country and independence movement, in a statement Monday.

Police buses separate anti-President Park Geun-hye and pro-Park protestors as they hold rival rallies in central Seoul, Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Separated by dozens of police buses, Park’s avid supporters, mostly senior citizens in their 60s to 80s, staged a rally from the afternoon in the central area encompassing Gwanghwamun interchange through Seoul Plaza to Namdaemun gate.

The organizers claimed 5 million people — which many see as an inflated number — attended the rally.

“We are now living in a prosperous country because we adopted a liberal democracy but because of North Korea, we haven’t fully achieved liberation yet,” sais Jung Dong-il, 74. “I think we are beginning a real civil revolution here to protect the country from communism.”

Protestors opposing the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye wave national flags during their rally held in central Seoul, Wednesday. (Yonhap)

The pro-Park protestors argued that the impeachment process was legally flawed and sparked by false news reports and fabricated evidence, calling for the nullification of the impeachment. They called anti-Park protestors North Korean sympathizers.

For the first time, they marched some 4 kilometers toward the presidential office, chanting “Invalidation of the impeachment” and “Arrest Ko Young-tae.”

Ko, Choi Soon-sil’s now-estranged confidant, is a whistleblower who has revealed Choi’s alleged meddling in state affairs and her close ties to the president.

They claim that the corruption scandal was caused by Ko, who held a grudge against Choi and Park after failing to capitalize on the Park-Choi friendship.

The rallies have been largely peaceful, defying concerns over possible violent clashes due to the growing scale of the rallies and the close proximity of the opposing sides.

The rally came a day after the independent counsel wrapped up its 70-day investigation by naming President Park Geun-hye as a bribery suspect in the corruption scandal that led to Park’s impeachment. Park is accused of colluding with her longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil to extort money and favors from local conglomerates including Samsung Group.

The Constitutional Court is now reviewing whether Park’s alleged violations of the law and the Constitution are serious enough to impeach her, with the ruling expected before its acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi’s term ends on March 13.


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