South Korean court throws president out
of office, two die in protest
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[March 10, 2017]
By Joyce Lee and Cynthia Kim
SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's
Constitutional Court removed President Park Geun-hye from office on
Friday over a graft scandal involving the country's conglomerates at a
time of rising tensions with North Korea and China.
The ruling sparked protests from hundreds of her supporters, two of whom
were killed in clashes with police outside the court.
Park becomes South Korea's first democratically elected leader to be
forced from office, capping months of paralysis and turmoil over a
corruption scandal that also landed the head of the Samsung conglomerate
A snap presidential election will be held within 60 days.
She did not appear in court and a spokesman said she would not be making
any comment nor would she leave the presidential Blue House residence on
"For now, Park is not leaving the Blue House today," Blue House
spokesman Kim Dong Jo told Reuters.
Park was stripped of her powers after parliament voted to impeach her
but has remained in the president's official compound.
The court's acting chief judge, Lee Jung-mi, said Park had violated the
constitution and law "throughout her term", and despite the objections
of parliament and the media, she had concealed the truth and cracked
down on critics.
Park has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing.
The ruling to uphold parliament's Dec. 9 vote to impeach her marks a
dramatic fall from grace of South Korea's first woman president and
daughter of Cold War military dictator Park Chung-hee, both of whose
parents were assassinated.
Park, 65, no longer has immunity as president, and could now face
criminal charges over bribery, extortion and abuse of power in
connection with allegations of conspiring with her friend, Choi
-For graphic on 'Who's Who in Korea scandal' click
-For graphic on 'South Korea's impeachment' click
-For graphic on 'Falls from grace around' the world click
Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn was appointed acting president and will
remain in that post until the election. He called on Park's supporters
and opponents to put their differences aside to prevent deeper division.
"It is time to accept, and close the conflict and confrontation we have
suffered," Hwang said in a televised speech.
A liberal presidential candidate, Moon Jae-in, is leading in opinion
polls to succeed Park, with 32 percent in one released on Friday. Hwang,
who has not said whether he will seek the presidency, leads among
conservatives, none of whom has more than single-digit poll ratings.
"Given Park's spectacular demise and disarray among conservatives, the
presidential contest in May is the liberals' to lose," said Yonsei
University professor John Delury.
Relations with China and the United States could dominate the coming
presidential campaign, after South Korea this month deployed the U.S.
THAAD missile defense system in response to North Korea's stepped up
missile and nuclear tests.
Beijing has vigorously protested against the deployment, fearing its
radar could see into its missile deployments. China has curbed travel to
South Korea and targeted Korean companies operating in the mainland,
prompting retaliatory measures from Seoul.
The Seoul market's benchmark KOSPI index <.KS11> and the <KRW=> rose
after the ruling.
The prospect of a new president in the first half of this year instead
of prolonged uncertainty will buoy domestic demand as well as the
markets, said Trinh Nguyen, senior economist at Natixis in Hong Kong.
[to top of second column]
People attend a rally calling for impeached President Park
Geun-hye's arrest in central Seoul, South Korea, March 10, 2017. The
sign reads "Park Geun-hye is impeached, We won". REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
"The hope is that this will allow the country to have a new leader
that can address long-standing challenges such as labor market
reforms and escalated geopolitical tensions," he said.
Park was accused of colluding with her friend, Choi, and a former
presidential aide, both of whom have been on trial, to pressure big
businesses to donate to two foundations set up to back her policy
The court said Park had "completely hidden the fact of (Choi's)
interference with state affairs".
Park was also accused of soliciting bribes from the head of the
Samsung Group for government favors, including backing a merger of
two Samsung affiliates in 2015 that was seen as supporting family
succession and control over the country's largest "chaebol" or
Samsung Group leader Jay Y. Lee has been accused of bribery and
embezzlement in connection with the scandal and is in detention. His
trial began on Thursday.
He and Samsung have denied wrongdoing.
The scandal and verdict have exposed fault lines in a country long
divided by Cold War politics.
While Park's conservative supporters clashed with police outside the
court, elsewhere, most people welcomed her ouster. A recent poll
showed more than 70 percent supported her impeachment.
Hundreds of thousands of people have for months been gathering at
peaceful rallies in Seoul every weekend to call for her to step
On Friday, hundreds of Park's supporters, many of them elderly,
tried to break through police barricades at the courthouse. Police
said one 72-year-old man was taken to hospital with a head injury
and died. The circumstances of the second death were being
Six people were injured, protest organizers said.
Police blocked the main thoroughfare running through downtown Seoul
in anticipation of bigger protests.
Park will be making a tragic and untimely departure from the Blue
House for the second time in her life.
In 1979, having served as acting first lady after her mother was
killed by a bullet meant for her father, she and her two siblings
left the presidential compound after their father was killed.
This time, she could end up in jail.
Prosecutors have named Park as an accomplice in two court cases
linked to the scandal, suggesting she is likely to be investigated.
North Korean state media wasted little time labeling Park a
"She had one more year left as 'president' but, now she's been
ousted, she will be investigated as a common criminal," the North's
state KCNA news agency said shortly after the court decision.
(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park, James Pearson, Heekyong Yang
and Dahee Kim in SEOUL, Yeganeh Torbati in WASHINGTON; Writing by
Robert Birsel; Editing by Bill Tarrant)
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