South Korean protesters call for ouster of justice minister

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Thousands of protesters rallied yesterday in South Korea’s capital for the second consecutive week to call for the ouster of President Moon Jae-in’s hand-picked justice minister, whose family is at the centre of an investigation into allegations of financial crimes and academic favours.

The protest near the presidential palace in Seoul followed a weekend demonstration in which a huge crowd of pro-government supporters occupied streets in front of the state prosecutors’ offices to show their support for Cho Kuk, whose appointment last month has deepened the nation’s political divide.

The city’s streets are now divided between pro-Cho and anti-Cho protesters, who for weeks have alternated with protests and counter-protests in areas separated by the Han River that flows through the capital.

Yesterday’s rally came amid a highly-publicised investigation of Cho’s university professor wife and other relatives over allegations of shady financial investments and fraudulent activities related to his daughter’s admission to a top university in Seoul and a medical school in Busan.

Cho, who previously served as Moon’s senior secretary for civil affairs, has denied any wrongdoing and vowed to push ahead with plans to reform the country’s justice system, including curbing the powers of mighty state prosecutors, even as they conduct a criminal probe into his family.

Carrying the South Korean flag and banners and signs that read ‘Arrest criminal Cho Kuk’, the protesters poured onto a major boulevard near Gwanghwamun Gate, the same streets where millions marched for months three years ago in unified anger against Moon’s conservative predecessor Park Geun-hye. She was removed from office in March 2017 and is currently serving a decades-long prison term over bribery and abuse of power.

Police did not release an estimate on the size of yesterday’s crowd, which appeared to be in the tens of thousands.

It was clearly a smaller gathering than the previous anti-Cho protest last Thursday, which experts said may have drawn hundreds of thousands.

Cho’s supporters are planning to hold another rally this weekend.

South Koreans wave flags as they march near the Presidential Blue House after a rally denouncing South Korea’s Justice Minister Cho Kuk. PHOTO: AP