Court unanimously ousts South Korea’s leader for corruption
Published 9:34 am Friday, March 10, 2017
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s Constitutional Court removed impeached President Park Geun-hye from office in a unanimous ruling Friday over a corruption scandal that has plunged the country into political turmoil and worsened an already-serious national divide.
The decision capped a stunning fall for the country’s first female leader, who rode a wave of lingering conservative nostalgia for her late dictator father to victory in 2012, only to see her presidency crumble as millions of furious protesters filled the nation’s streets.
Two people died during protests that followed the ruling. Police and hospital officials said about 30 protesters and police officers were injured in the violent clashes near the court, which prompted Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, the country’s acting head of state, to plead for peace and urge Park’s angry supporters to move on.
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The ruling allows possible criminal proceedings against the 65-year-old Park — prosecutors have already named her a criminal suspect — and makes her South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be removed from office since democracy replaced dictatorship in the late 1980s.
It also deepens South Korea’s political and security uncertainty as the country faces existential threats from North Korea, reported economic retaliation from a China furious about Seoul’s cooperation with the U.S. on an anti-missile system, and questions in Seoul about the new Trump administration’s commitment to the countries’ security alliance.
Park’s “acts of violating the constitution and law are a betrayal of the public trust,” acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi said. “The benefits of protecting the constitution that can be earned by dismissing the defendant are overwhelmingly big. Hereupon, in a unanimous decision by the court panel, we issue a verdict: We dismiss the defendant, President Park Geun-hye.”
Lee accused Park of colluding with longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil to extort tens of millions of dollars from businesses and letting Choi, a private citizen, meddle in state affairs and receive and look at documents with state secrets. Those allegations were previously made by prosecutors, but Park has refused to undergo any questioning, citing a law that gives a sitting leader immunity from prosecution.
It is not clear when prosecutors will try to interview her.
Park won’t vacate the presidential Blue House on Friday as her aides are preparing for her return to her private home in southern Seoul, according to the Blue House. Park has not made a public statement on her removal.
Park’s lawyer, Seo Seok-gu, who had previously compared Park’s impeachment to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, called the verdict a “tragic decision” made under popular pressure and questioned the fairness of what he called a “kangaroo court.”