SEOUL, South Korea — Hundreds of thousands of South Koreans filled central Seoul on Saturday to demand President Park Geun-hye’s resignation, in what appeared to be the largest turnout yet in a series of weekly protests against the embattled leader, who is facing the possibillity of impeachment within weeks.
Despite cold weather and the first snow of the season, a crowd that organizers estimated at 1.3 million gathered to denounce Ms. Park, who has been accused by prosecutors of helping a friend commit extortion. The police estimate of the turnout was much lower, at 260,000, but the crowd seemed larger than at an enormous rally in the capital two weeks earlier. It was the fifth consecutive Saturday marked by a large protest against the president.
The demonstrations have been peaceful and almost festive. Street vendors sold candles, mattresses and hot snacks on Saturday, and a few roadside shops gave protesters free hot coffee. Buddhist monks marched, beating their wooden gongs.
Mothers showed up with children, or with pet dogs wrapped in padded vests, and young couples bundled in winter coats sang along as loudspeakers blared catchy tunes calling for Ms. Park’s ouster. One such song quoted from South Korea’s Constitution: “The Republic of Korea shall be a democratic republic.”
Prosecutors have identified Ms. Park as a criminal accomplice in the case of Choi Soon-sil, an old friend, who has been charged with using her influence to coerce businesses into donating large sums to foundations that Ms. Choi controls. Ms. Park has also been accused, in news reports, of letting Ms. Choi wield undue influence in state affairs.
Ms. Park, who cannot be prosecuted while in office, has apologized twice to the public over the scandal, but she has refused to resign, as opposition lawmakers, major newspapers and some members of her own party have demanded. Opposition parties hope to impeach Ms. Park with the support of some lawmakers from her party.
Some protesters chanted “Imprison Park Geun-hye!” as they marched toward the presidential Blue House. Hundreds of buses and thousands of police officers had been deployed to form barriers around it. One group of demonstrators was stopped just 200 yards from the presidential compound.
The National Assembly is expected to vote on the impeachment bill by Dec. 9. No South Korean president has ever been removed from office through impeachment.