Tens of thousands rally against South Korea president

Mass demonstration in Seoul against pro-business labour laws and attempt to change history textbooks.

d83d9088e2b2467584f736e5f3678dfe_18Tens of thousands of protesters marched in the South Korean capital on Saturday accusing President Park Geun-hye of pushing pro-business labour laws and attacking personal and political freedoms.

The march was organised by labour, farming and civic groups opposing what they called the president’s effort to glorify her father’s authoritarian rule.

An estimated crowd of 30,000 people – many wearing masks in defiance of Park’s call for a ban on mask-wearing during demonstrations – marched through the city centre en masse.

Demonstrators carried signs and banners with slogans that included “Park Geun-hye step down” and “Stop regressive changes to labour laws”.

Park’s administration is facing mounting resentment over a range of issues, including her plan to impose new history textbooks on schools, to further open the agricultural market, and to reform the labour market by making the dismissal of workers easier and cutting wages for older workers.

“President Park, Don’t try to turn South Korea’s national history into your family’s private history,” said a banner carried by a female student at a rally outside City Hall.

“Overall many are coming out onto the streets to express a general frustration with just the way life is in Seoul at the moment and in Korea in general. Al Jazeera’s Margas Ortigas, reporting from Seoul, said.

“They feel that there is a widening wealth gap and that the workers are only becoming poor.”

The march began on the same streets where a demonstration three weeks earlier drew about 70,000 people, the largest rally the capital, Seoul, had seen in a decade.

Police had initially banned Saturday’s rally but organisers appealed to the Seoul Administrative Court, which overturned the order.

“A much more subdued atmosphere than it was here a few weeks ago. Many here are saying that’s because of a notable lack in police presence. That has definitely defused any potential tension here,” the Al Jazeera correspondent said.

“The fact that you can’t really see many police out on the streets means protesters hope the spotlight will be firmly on the issues that they want the government to address,” she said.

While presiding over a government cabinet meeting on November 24, Park described the earlier demonstration as an attempt “to negate the rule of law and incapacitate the government”, calling for a crackdown on those who incite “illegal, violent protests”.

Critics say Park, despite an election promise to reach out to opponents for national unity, is increasingly reliant on strong-arm tactics used by her late father Park Chung-Hee, a general-turned-authoritarian leader who ruled the country for 18 years until he was assassinated in 1979.

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