Thousands rally against South Korea leader despite virus warning

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) — Thousands of anti-government protesters, armed with umbrellas and raincoats, marched through the soggy streets of South Korea’s capital yesterday, ignoring official pleas to stay home amid a surge in coronavirus infections.

Municipal officials in Seoul sought to forbid the slew of rallies planned by conservative activist groups for a holiday celebrating the 75th anniversary of the nation’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule at the end of World War II.

But a court allowed some of them to go on, citing civil liberties after protesters challenged the city’s administrative order banning the gatherings. The demonstrators, many of them wearing masks and carrying the South Korean flag, paraded through rain near Seoul’s presidential palace, calling for liberal President Moon Jae-in to step down over what they see as policy failures, kowtowing to nuclear-armed North Korea and election corruption.

Some South Korean conservatives insist that the April parliamentary elections convincingly won by Moon’s party were rigged, although most experts see such claims as false conspiracy theories. Some protesters scuffled with police officers who closely followed the marchers, but there were no immediate reports of major clashes or injuries.

The demonstrations took place as the government announced stronger social distancing restrictions for the greater capital area following a spike in COVID-19 infections.

The two-week measures starting today will allow authorities in Seoul and towns in neighbouring Gyeonggi Province to shut down high-risk facilities such as karaoke rooms, movie theatres and buffet restaurants if they fail to properly enforce preventive measures, including social distancing, temperature checks, keeping customer lists and requiring masks.

Police officers patrol around the Gyeongbok Palace, one of South Korea’s well-known landmarks, in Seoul, South Korea. PHOTO: AP