A man makes a clenched fist while he marches through central Seoul during a protest against South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
South Korea now has one of the most vibrant democracies in Asia. That's a remarkable change from the years of dictatorship South Koreans endured during their country's post war journey. And in any democracy, protest is a part of life.
Park Geun-hye was inaugurated as the President of South Korea in February 2013. She is the daughter of former South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee, who seized power in 1961, officially appointed (not elected) president in 1963 and ruled until 1979, when he was assassinated by a friend in a coup against him. During Park's rule, South Korea sent thousands of troops to Vietnam to fight alongside US forces and the South Korean economy expanded at a blistering pace.
A man in military garb during a pro-Park, anti-Moon rally.
Time heals all wounds and despite the fact that Park was a dictator, some in South Korea look back fondly at his tenure (because of the rapid economic expansion) and his daughter Park Geun-hye was elected on both the basis of her own accomplishments and her connection to the long ruling dictator.
Park was a committed hard liner in relations with North Korea and she allowed the sun to set on the Sunshine Policy of her predecessors Kim Dae-jung and Park Chung-hee. She also, apparently, had questionable judgement and got caught up in a sweeping corruption scandal. She was impeached in 2017, removed from office and sentenced to 24 years in prison.
A pro-Park protester waves the South Korean and American flags at a pro-Park rally.
Moon Jae-in, a liberal and supporter of Kim Dae-jung and Park Chung-hee, was elected in the wake of the Park scandal and governs South Korea today.
Moon is incredibly popular. By some South Korean polls, his approval ratings are around 60%. But for Park supporters, Moon is an illegitimate President (in a nod to Trumpian rhetoric, Moon's opponents call him the "fake" President) and Park was innocent, or at least no more guilty than any other president, (both sides do it) and was set up by the bureaucracy (the "deep state"). Park's supporters loathe Moon and the reinvigoration of the "Sunshine Policy."
A woman plays a drum during the anti-Moon protest. The Park supporters I met were very pro-American. Most were waving US flags along with South Korean flags.
Many of Park's supporters think Moon is a communist agent, placed years ago (a "Manchurian Candidate" as it were). They believe Moon will sell out the South in favor of North Korea. They are counting on South Korea's relationship with the United States to maintain the South's freedom.
Despite the fact that Trump unilaterally cancelled annual joint US-South Korean military exercises, suggested the US could pull its military forces out of South Korea, and did not bring up either South Korean* or Japanese** concerns, Park supporters insist Trump will stand by the South.
An evangelical Christian who supports Park prays during the anti-Moon protest. South Korea has a very large Christian population. About 14 million South Koreans profess to be Christian, about 29% of South Koreans, 23% are Buddhists but 46% are non-religious.
The anti-Moon protests have a large evangelical presence. Many start with an evangelical prayer meeting before the political rally starts.
Park supporters at a rally.
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* North Korea has hundreds of artillery pieces pointed at Seoul and could rain hundreds of thousands of artillery rounds, some loaded with chemical weapons, on Seoul in the first hour of renewed conflict on the Korean peninsula. This is a major concern of the South and Trump didn't bring it up.
** North Korea has abducted hundreds of Japanese civilians from western coastal areas of Japan. Return of its citizens has been a key issue for Japan. Trump, apparently, said nothing about this.