SEOUL: Hundreds of thousands of protestors gathered in Seoul for the sixth-straight week on Saturday (Dec 3) to demand the ouster of scandal-hit President Park Geun-Hye ahead of an impeachment vote in parliament.
The latest in a series of massive anti-Park demonstrations in the South Korean capital came just hours after opposition parties filed an impeachment motion that will be put to a vote by MPs on Friday.
Whether the motion is adopted or not, Park is firmly on course to become the first democratically-elected South Korean president not to complete a full, five-year term.
The 64-year-old stands accused of colluding with an old friend who has been formally indicted for attempted fraud and abuse of power.
The only real questions that remain are precisely when she will go, and whether she will step down or be removed.
The protestors who have taken to the streets in their millions in recent weeks want her out immediately, but the political establishment is struggling to find a similar unity of purpose.
The impeachment motion introduced in the early hours of Saturday morning carried 171 signatures -- accounting for every legislator from the three opposition parties and independents.
In order to secure the two-thirds majority required for impeachment in the 300-seat national assembly, it will need the support of more than two-dozen lawmakers from Park's ruling Saenuri Party.
Just a week ago, the backing of enough Saenuri rebels had seemed assured, but a rather confused resignation offer by Park on Tuesday strengthened the hand of her loyalists who insist she be allowed to step down voluntarily.
The party has now proposed she resign in April -- a timeline it justifies as more conducive to a calm and steady preparation for an early presidential election.
Observers say the Saenuri rebels are likely to fall in line with the proposal and vote against the motion on Friday -- much to the opposition's annoyance.
"If the motion fails to pass due to a lack of cooperation from the ruling party, it must take responsibility for all the consequences", the main opposition Democratic Party's floor leader Woo Sang-Ho said.
The prospect of an April departure for Park will do little to assuage the widespread public anger that has driven the mass protests in Seoul and other cities.
"Park is lying when she said she would step down voluntarily. Impeachment is the only option left for stripping her of the office," said Goh Du-Hwan, a 45-year-old accountant.
Goh was among hundreds of activists who gathered for an early protest outside the Saenuri Party headquarters ahead of Saturday's mass rally.
"SHE MUST GO"
"I don't regard Park as our president any more. She must go now," added Chung Do-Sook, 54, a former English instructor.
Even if impeachment were approved by the assembly on Friday, Park would likely remain in office for some considerable time.
An adopted motion would still require approval of the Constitutional Court -- a process that could take up to six months, with no guarantee of how the bench would rule.
The only other impeachment was of then-president Roh Moo-Hyun in 2004. On that occasion, the court rejected the motion and there was a strong public backlash against those who supported it.
Saturday's main demonstration was set to culminate -- as on previous Saturdays -- in a candlelit march in the direction of the presidential Blue House.
Police said they had deployed around 20,000 officers to control the event.
A similar rally the previous week drew what organisers claimed was a record 1.5 million people. Police put the turnout at 270,000.
The scandal that has engulfed Park and paralysed her administration has focused on her friendship with long-time confidante Choi Soon-Sil.
Choi has been charged with meddling in state affairs and using her Blue House connections to force dozens of conglomerates to donate around $70 million to two foundations she controlled.
In a first for a sitting South Korean president, Park has been named a "suspect" by prosecutors investigating Choi.
As president, Park cannot be charged with a criminal offence except insurrection or treason, but she would lose that immunity once she steps down.