South Korean police fired water cannons and tear gas at protesters, who were brought together by a variety of grievances, including President Park Geun-hye’s decision to replace history textbooks.
SEOUL, South Korea — The police Saturday fired water cannons and tear gas at thousands of protesters shouting for President Park Geun-hye’s resignation while marching toward her office in Seoul in the largest anti-government demonstration in the city in several years.
Tens of thousands of people wearing plastic raincoats filled a City Hall plaza in downtown Seoul, brought together by a variety of anti-government grievances, including Park’s recent decision to replace privately published school history textbooks with a uniform, government-issued text.
The crowd, many of whom chanted “Down with Park Geun-hye!” and “No to layoffs!” surged down a 10-lane boulevard toward Park’s presidential office, the Blue House, several blocks away. Officers blocked the marchers with barricades they built using 700 police buses linked together across the main street and other roads leading to the presidential compound.
There were no immediate tallies of the number of people injured on either side. Water fired from the police cannons contained liquid tear gas and blue paint to help identify protesters for later arrest.
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Protest organizers said up to 130,000 people joined the rally Saturday; police put the number at 68,000.
Park, who left early Saturday for meetings in Turkey and the Philippines, has recently seen her approval ratings fall after her decision on the history textbooks. Student protesters Saturday said the new textbook, to be issued by the government by 2017, would whitewash the legacy of Park’s father, former President Park Chung-hee.
Park Chung-hee was accused of collaborating with the Japanese colonial forces in the early 20th century, and in 1961 he seized power in a military coup and ruled South Korea as the leader of a dictatorship until his assassination in 1979. The country’s conservative elites have credited him with guiding South Korea’s economic growth during his rule.
Many of the protesters were unionized workers who detest labor reforms pushed by Park. Labor groups said the changes would benefit only the country’s powerful family-controlled conglomerates, known as chaebol.
The government said the changes were needed to help companies compete better with low-cost industries in China and to create jobs for young people.