2016–17 South Korean protests

2016–17 South Korean protests
The press conference of Busan civic groups calling for Park Geun-hye's resignation at Busan Station in 2016.
Hangul 촛불항쟁
Hanja 촛불抗爭
Revised Romanization Chotbul hangjaeng
McCune–Reischauer Ch'otbul hangjaeng

2016–17 South Korean protests, also known as Candlelight Struggle[1] (Korean: 촛불항쟁) Candlelight Revolution[2] (Korean: 촛불혁명), is a series of protests against President Park Geun-hye have occurred throughout South Korea from November 2016 to March 2017. After the initial demonstrations on October 26, 2016, thousands of South Korean protesters denounced the Park administration's political scandal and called for the resignation of Park Geun-hye.[3][4]

Meanwhile, a series of protests led by the supporters of President Park have occurred in the country as well.[5][6] After the impeachment of Park Geun-hye on corruption charges in December, the pro-Park rallies have grown substantially, accompanied with a large mobilization of hundreds of thousands of protesters.[7][8] The nation has been divided by the increasing conflicts between supporters and opponents of President Park. In February 2017, the Liberty Korea Party, at the time the ruling party of South Korea, claimed that the size of pro-Park rallies have begun to overwhelm the size of anti-Park rallies.[9]


In October 2016, a political scandal erupted over President Park Geun-hye's undisclosed links to Choi Soon-sil. Choi Soon-sil, a woman with no security clearance and no official position, was found to have been giving secret counsels to the president.

Choi Soon-sil had known President Park since the 1970s when her father, Choi Tae-min, was then-president Park Chung-hee's mentor while the family was still grieving from the assassination of then first-lady Yuk Young-soo.[10] Choi at that time claimed that the shamanic leader can channel communication to her dead mother.[11]

Both have remained friends since, even up to the point when Park Geun-hye became president. Park's imperial manner during her tenure has raised suspicions due to her lack of communication with parts of the government and the press.[12]

Choi, who has no official government position, was revealed to have access to confidential documents and information for the president, and acted as a close confidante for the president. Choi and President Park's senior staff used their influence to extort ₩77.4 billion (~$774 million) from Korean chaebols – family-owned large business conglomerates – setting up two media and sports-related foundations, the Mir and K-sports foundations.[13][14][15] She embezzled money during the process, and it is reported that some of them were used to support her daughter Chung Yoo-ra's dressage activities in Germany. She is also accused of rigging the admissions process at Ewha Womans University to help her daughter get accepted at the university. Ahn Jong-bum, a top presidential aide, was arrested for abusing power and helping Choi; he denied wrongdoing and claims he simply followed presidential orders.[16][17]

On October 25, 2016, Park Geun-hye publicly acknowledged her close ties with Choi. On October 28, Park dismissed key members of her top office staff and Park's opinion rating dropped to 5%, the lowest ever for a sitting South Korean president.[4][18][19][20] Her approval rating ranged from 1 to 3% for Korean citizens under 60 years of age, while it remained higher at 13% for over 60 years age group.[21]

This also prompted President Park to fire members of her cabinet and the prime minister of South Korea in order to redirect the public's criticism. In particular, the sacking of the prime minister Hwang Kyo-ahn has resulted in a controversy, due to the claim that his firing had been done via a text message.[22][23]

Protests against Park Geun-hye

Park Geun-hye Resignation Movement
Part of 2016–2017 Park Geun-hye Resignation Movement
Date 26 October 2016 – 11 March 2017
After Impeachment : 25 March and 15 April 2017
(1 year, 10 months, 1 week and 1 day)
Location  South Korea nationwide
Caused by
Goals Resignation of Park Geun-hye, punishment of Choi Soon-sil, dissolution of Liberty Korea Party
Methods Civil resistance, demonstrations, protest marches, picketing
Resulted in

President Park Geun-hye removed from office by the South Korean Constitutional Court

  • New presidential elections held in May 2017
  • Moon Jae-in elected President
Parties to the civil conflict

Organizing Committee for People’s Candlelight Demonstrations in Korea:


Miscellaneous right-wing groups

Lead figures
Non-centralised Leadership
Non-centralised(Virtually Centralised) Leadership
55 protesters injured[24]
4 officers injured
3 killed

The revelations about the relationship of Park Geun-hye and Choi Soon-sil have been resulting in mass demonstrations in Seoul,[25][26] also known as the Park Geun-hye Resignment Nationwide Movement or Candlelight Revolution.[27][28] Protesters called for the resignation of Park Geun-hye.[4]



On 1 November, Reuters reported a man used an excavator to crash into the front entrance of the Supreme Prosecutors' Office building during a protest in Seoul.[29]

On 5 November, people attended rally early on Saturday evening petition for Park's resignation. The police estimated 43,000, but organisers claimed more than 100,000.[30][31]

On 12 November, four officers were injured during the demonstrations, according to South Korea's Yonhap News Agency, which cited police. Twenty-six protesters were taken to hospital with injuries and a further 29 were treated at the scene of the protests, Yonhap quoted the Fire Department as saying.[24]

On 19 November, a large number of South Korean high school students also joined the crowds after taking the college entrance test.[32] Not all Koreans were calling for the president to resign, however. A short drive away from the main protest, a group of conservative protesters gathered outside Seoul station in defence of the president until 17 December.[33]

On 28 November, 1.9 million people hit the streets in a nationwide anti-president rally [34]


On 3 December 2.3 million people hit the streets in a nationwide anti-president rally, which is the largest in the country's history. An estimated 1.6 million people gathered around the main boulevards from the City Hall to Gwanghwamun Square and Gyeongbok Palace. Another estiamted 200,000 people gathered around the city of Busan and 100,000 in Gwangju. [35]

On 10 December, hundreds of thousands gathered for weekly protests cheering for the impeachment of Park Geun-hye.[36]

But, on 17 December, pro-Park supporters held their first major demonstrations in Seoul, claiming about 1 million according to the organisers. They called for the reinstatement of the currently impeached president.[37]

On 24 December, 550,000 people held the Christmas Santa Rally, calling for the immediate removal of their president.[38]

On 31 December, South Koreans celebrate New Year's Eve with mass protest. Over 1 million people take to the street according to Organizer, brought the cumulative number of people who have attended the protests since October to 10 millions, the largest weekly protest in South Korean history.[39][40]



On the first Saturday in 2017 (7 January), Hundreds of thousands of protestors returned to the streets of Seoul demanding impeached President's immediate removal and the salvaging of a sunken ferry which left more than 300 dead. At 7 pm (10:00 GMT) hundreds of yellow balloons were released and the protestors blew out the candles they were carrying as a symbolic gesture asking that Park clarify the mystery surrounding her seven-hour absence at the time of the ferry sinking as people prepared to mark 1000th day anniversary of the Sewol ferry sinking.[41][42]

On 21 January, South Koreans took to the streets Saturday to demand the arrest of the Samsung scion whose arrest warrant was rejected by a court last week, in the 13th candlelit protest calling for President Park Geun-hye to resign. Braving snow and cold, hundreds of thousands of protesters also demanded the Constitutional Court speed up reviewing President Park's impeachment.[43]


As the Candlelight rallies reached 100th day, on 4 February, 400,000 people gathered at Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul, calling for an extension of the Special Prosecutor’s investigation and for Park to step down immediately.[44]

On 11 February, Hundreds of thousands of Koreans took to the streets with a Conflicting rallies between Pro and Anti-Impeachment groups.[45] Those who opposed Park held their 15th weekly candlelight rally in Gwanghwamun Square, while her supporters waved South Korean flags outside of Seoul City Hall for their 12th rally. Presidential hopefuls including provincial governor An Hee-jung and former leader of the main opposition Democratic Party Moon Jae-in attended the anti-Park rally. Rhee In-je of the ruling Saenuri Party attended the pro-Park rally "to be part of the patriotic people's wave," while Ahn Cheol-soo, a former chair of the minor opposition People's Party, did not attend either rally.[46]

After Samsung vice-chairman Lee Jae-Yong was arrested at 17 February by Special Prosecutors on charges of bribery in connection with the scandal, 700,000 people walked to the street on 18 February. Protesters urged the Constitutional Court, currently reviewing the legitimacy of the impeachment, to promptly reach a conclusion for the ouster of the president..

On 25 February, Hundreds of thousands of Koreans held rival demonstrations in Seoul over the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye on the fourth anniversary of her swearing into office. Anti-Park protest organisers claimed a one million turnout and pro-Park supporters said they had attracted three million. The demonstrations come as court prepares to hold final hearing on president's impeachment over corruption scandal.[47][48]


After Constitutional court removed Park Geun-hye from power over a corruption scandal, ousted South Korean President Park Geun-hye maintained her silence on Saturday as her opponents and supporters divided the capital's streets with massive rallies that showed a nation deeply split over its future.[49] Carrying flags and candles and cheering jubilantly, tens of thousands of people occupied a boulevard in downtown Seoul to celebrate Park's ouster. Meanwhile, in a nearby grass square, a large crowd of Park's supporters glumly waved national flags near a stage where organizers, wearing red caps and military uniforms, vowed to resist what they are calling "political assassination."

Nearly 20,000 police officers were deployed on Saturday to monitor the protesters, who were also separated by tight perimeters created by hundreds of police buses. They also held Rival rallies on 1 and 4 March respectively.[50]

Impeachment of Park Geun-hye

On 3 December 2016, three opposition parties agreed to introduce a joint impeachment motion against President Park Geun-hye. The motion, which was signed by 171 of 300 lawmakers, was put to a vote on Friday, 9 December 2016, and passed with 234 out of 300 votes, a tally much greater than the required 2/3 majority and which included 62 members of Park's Saenuri Party.[51] The Impeachment process was pending in Constitutional Court of Korea and could take 180 days to decide the legality of Impeachment.

Against Park Geun-hye's opponents trying to oust her, the protesters have organized increasingly large rallies mostly in central Seoul since October 2016, calling for the reinstatement of the president.

Park Geun-hye was finally impeached on 10 March 2017.

Protests to rally for Park Geun-hye

Protests against the impeachment of Park Geun-hye
Pro-Park Geun-hye rallies at Seoul Plaza on March 1, 2017
Date 31 October 2016[5] – present
Location  South Korea nationwide
Caused by 2016 South Korean political scandal, Impeachment of Park Geun-hye, 2016 protests against Park Geun-hye in South Korea
Goals Reinstatement of Park Geun-hye
Methods Civil resistance, demonstrations, protest marches, picketing
Status Ongoing


On October 31, 2016, a group of conservative protesters had a protest at the front of the South Korean media JTBC headquarters, claiming its coverage about the scandal as biased and unfounded.[5]

On November 19, 2016, thousands of Park's supporters staged their protests in central Seoul, calling on the president not to succumb to mounting pressure on her to step aside.[52]

On December 17, 2016, the pro-Park protesters blamed the media for fuelling anti-Park sentiment, focusing their coverage too much on the views of younger and liberal voters and on criticism that Park received cosmetic procedures while in office.[53]


Pro-president rallies have grown substantially. On January 14, 2017, the organizers of the protests claim that 1.2 million people gathered in central Seoul, insisting that the Constitutional Court should reject the impeachment.[54]

While the anti-Park protests once attracted more than a million but shrank after Park's impeachment,[7] the number of pro-Park protesters reached 2.1 million and began to overwhelm their rivals, according to the organizer's claims.[9][55] Claims from the organizers has been criticized for almost unrealistic exaggeration of the number of participants.[56]

Number of protesters

DateAnti-Park Geun-hyePolice
Pro-Park Geun-hye












29-Oct-1612,00050,000 4,800
5-Nov-1645,000300,000 17,600
12-Nov-16260,0001,060,000 1,320,00025,000
19-Nov-16at least 155,000960,000 220,00011,00067,000
26-Nov-16330,0001,900,000-2,000,000 1,660,00025,000[57]
3-Dec-16more than 424,000at least 2,300,000 1,880,00020,0001,50015,000[58]
10-Dec-16166,0001,043,400 790,00018,000 40,000213,000
17-Dec-1677,000770,000[59] 18,240 30,0001,000,000[60]
18-Feb-17unknown700,000[72]15,200unknown"2,500,000" [73]
8 to 11-Mar-17unknown700,00016,000unknown"7,000,000"
Total1,648,000 (as 7 January 2017)±16,000,000 (excluding March 1 rally)356,460157,500 (as 7 January 2017)"±30,000,000" (as 11 March 2017, excluding March 1 rally)
*Pro-Park organization's claim on the number of participants has been criticized as "unrealistic" and "exaggerated" [76]


On 11 March 2017, police say 3 people were killed and dozens were injured in clashes between police and Park's supporters after the Constitutional Court of Korea rules to oust Park.[77][78]

See also


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