For the fifth straight weekend, masses of protesters occupied major avenues in downtown Seoul on Saturday demanding the ouster of President Park Geun-hye. She is suspected of helping in the criminal activities of a secretive confidante who is accused of manipulating government affairs and extorting companies to build an illicit fortune.
The rally renewed what has become a weekly back-and-forth between police and protest organizers, whose crowd estimates have differed widely. Police said about 270,000 people turned out on Saturday, making it the largest anti-Park rally yet. Organizers estimated the crowd at 1.5 million.
There are many challenges for counting the number of protesters. The rallies stretch from midday to late night, some people stay for several hours, others just several minutes. The demonstrators not only gather in open space, but also small alleys and between buildings. Some of them are constantly moving.
A look at how police and protest organizers size the crowds at protests, and also how South Korean scientists and a technology company are exploring new ways to more accurately measure the number of protesters:
While the protest in Seoul on Nov. 12 might have been one of the largest since South Korea freed itself from dictatorship three decades ago, it’s unclear how big it actually was. Police saw the crowd at 260,000, while organizers say 1 million turned out.
For the police, the aim is to measure the maximum crowd occupying a certain space at any given time so that they could determine the size of police personnel and resources to deploy, according to an official from the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, who didn’t want to be named, citing office rules.
Police presume that, when sitting, six people would fill a space of 36 square feet, or 1 “pyeong,” the aerial unit commonly used in South Korea. The same area would hold nine or 10 people when standing, police said.