Seoul: Hundreds of thousands of people flooded Seoul's streets on Saturday demanding the resignation of President Park Geun-hye amid an explosive political scandal, in what may be South Korea's largest protest since it shook off dictatorship three decades ago.
Police said about 260,000 people turned out for the latest mass rally against Park, whose presidency has been shaken by suspicion that she let a shadowy longtime confidante manipulate power from behind the scenes.
Protest organisers estimated the crowd at 1 million.
Waving banners and signs, a sea of demonstrators jammed streets stretching about a kilometre from City Hall to a large square in front of an old palace gate for several hours, roaring and applauding to speeches calling for Park's ouster.
Protesters also marched on a road in front of the palace gate and near the Blue House, the mountainside presidential office and residence, carrying candles, blowing horns and banging drums, while shouting "Park Geun-hye, resign!"
Bae Dong-san, a 45-year-old man, said Park's government has "worsened the living conditions of workers, completely messed up state governance and monopolised state affairs with her secret inner circle."
"It feels much better to shout together with many other people," he said.
Despite rising public anger, opposition parties have yet to seriously push for Park's resignation or impeachment over fears of triggering a backlash from conservative voters and negatively impacting next year's presidential election.
However, they have threatened to campaign for Park's resignation if she doesn't distance herself from state affairs.
The protest on Saturday was the largest in the capital since June 10, 2008, when police said 80,000 people took part in a candlelight vigil denouncing the government's decision to resume US beef imports amid mad cow fears.
Organisers estimated that crowd at 700,000. In the summer of 1987, millions rallied in Seoul and other cities for weeks before the then-military government caved in to demands for free presidential elections.
Train and express bus tickets to Seoul were difficult to get from some areas last evening and this morning, with the protest reportedly drawing tens of thousands of people from other cities.
"I have never been interested in politics and I don't even have a TV at home ... But unbelievable things have been happening and I came out today because I didn't want to feel defeated as a South Korean citizen," said Cho Jong-gyu, who took a five-hour bus ride from the small southern island of Geoje to participate in the rally, where he quietly held a cardboard sign calling for Park to resign.