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[SEOUL] Supporters of South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who has been impeached over a corruption scandal, rallied on Saturday for her reinstatement, countering weeks of large protests calling on her to step down immediately.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters have thronged the streets of Seoul on recent weekends, demanding her resignation over the influence-peddling scandal involving a close friend. Another such rally was set for later on Saturday.
Ms Park's presidential powers have been suspended since a Dec 9 impeachment vote in parliament was passed by a wide margin, which set the stage for her to become South Korea's first elected leader to be thrown out of office. The Constitutional Court must first uphold the motion.
Ms Park, 64, is accused of colluding with long-time friend Choi Soon-sil, who has been indicted and is in custody, to pressure big businesses to make contributions to non-profit foundations backing presidential initiatives.
Saturday's pro-Park rally near the court a few blocks from the presidential Blue House drew largely older people who said those behind the movement to oust her were misguided.
"The people who love this country have come out to save the country despite the hardship," Kim Ku-ja, 69, said with the national flag draped over her.
She blamed the media for fuelling anti-Park sentiment, focusing their coverage too much on the views of younger and liberal voters and on criticism that Ms Park received cosmetic procedures while in office. "What's so wrong about a woman getting Botox shots? Why is that a problem?" Ms Kim said.
Ms Park's supporters have been in the minority in the weeks of protests demanding her removal, with huge rallies over seven straight weekends packing the streets of downtown Seoul.
However, Ms Park has resisted the push and indicated she would not step down, fuelling concern that the political crisis could drag on for months. She has denied wrongdoing but apologised for carelessness in her ties with Choi.
Ms Park's lawyers struck a defiant note on Friday in their first comments since the impeachment vote, saying the motion had no legal basis and should be overturned by the Constitutional Court, which has 180 days to review the case.
If the impeachment is upheld or Ms Park steps down voluntarily, a new election has to be held in 60 days to pick a new leader who will serve a single five-year term. Ms Park's term was originally set to end in February 2018.