Critics of South Korea's ousted Park call for her arrest

Opponents of South Korea's ousted leader, Park Geun-hye, demanded on Saturday that she be arrested a day after she was thrown out of office over a corruption scandal involving the country's conglomerates.

Park's critics said they would rally in central Seoul, where they have been gathering every weekend for months, while the former president's conservative supporters also planned protests, raising the risk of confrontation.

The Constitutional Court ruling on Friday to uphold a parliamentary vote to impeach Park infuriated hundreds of her supporters, two of whom were killed as they tried to break through police lines outside the court. A third man, a 74-year-old, had a heart attack and died on Saturday, a hospital said.

Protesters were setting up a stage beside a major avenue in central Seoul early on Saturday, and groups of police were on the streets, but the situation was calm.

"We demand the arrest of Park Geun-hye and the resignation of acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn," said Choi In-sook, a spokeswoman for protesters opposed to Park, told Reuters.

Prime Minister Hwang, a Park loyalist, became acting president when parliament voted to impeach her on Dec. 9.

Hwang called for calm on Friday and promised that a snap presidential election, which has to be held within 60 days, would be smooth.

Park is South Korea's first democratically elected leader to be forced from office. Her ouster followed months of political paralysis and turmoil over a corruption scandal that also landed the head of the Samsung conglomerate in jail and facing trial.

Park did not appear in court on Friday and did not make any comment after the ruling. She spent the night in the presidential Blue House residence though would leave at some time, and return to her Seoul residence, a spokesman said.

The chairman of the National Election Commission, Kim Yong-deok, said in a televised address the vote would be free and fair and held by May 9 at the latest. He said he was concerned differences could lead to an "overheated" atmosphere and called on the public to overcome "conflict".

Park's supporters want her to stay in power. Some want the court decision overturned and her case heard again by new judges.

"We strongly request the trial is held again," said Chung Kwang Yong, a spokesman for the protest organizers.

Another Park supporter, Vietnam War veteran C.S. Kim, asked about the violence on Friday, said police had been "over-protective". He said Park's supporters were driven by their patriotism.

FALL FROM GRACE

The court ruling marked 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 Soon-sil.

A liberal candidate, Moon Jae-in, is leading in opinion polls to succeed Park, with 32 percent in one released on Friday.

Relations with China and the United States could dominate the presidential campaign, after South Korea this month began deployment of 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 in the mainland, prompting retaliatory measures from Seoul.

Reform of the country's giant conglomerates, known as "chaebol", will also be an election issue.

Park was accused of soliciting bribes from the head of the Samsung Group, the country's largest conglomerate, for government favors.

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.

FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Park Geun-hye speaks during an interview with Reuters at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul September 16, 2014. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo


South Korea Removes President Park Geun-hye

SEOUL, South Korea — A South Korean court removed the president on Friday, a first in the nation’s history, rattling the delicate balance of relationships across Asia at a particularly tense time.

Her removal capped months of turmoil, as hundreds of thousands of South Koreans took to the streets, week after week, to protest a sprawling corruption scandal that shook the top echelons of business and government.

Park Geun-hye, the nation’s first female president and the daughter of the Cold War military dictator Park Chung-hee, had been an icon of the conservative establishment that joined Washington in pressing for a hard line against North Korea’s nuclear provocations.

Now, her downfall is expected to shift South Korean politics to the opposition, whose leaders want more engagement with North Korea and are wary of a major confrontation in the region. They say they will re-examine the country’s joint strategy on North Korea with the United States and defuse tensions with China, which has sounded alarms about the growing American military footprint in Asia.

Eight justices of the Constitutional Court unanimously decided to unseat Ms. Park for committing “acts that violated the Constitution and laws” throughout her time in office, Acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi said in a ruling that was nationally broadcast.

Ms. Park’s acts “betrayed the trust of the people and were of the kind that cannot be tolerated for the sake of protecting the Constitution,” Justice Lee said.

As the verdict was announced, silence fell over thousands of Park supporters who rallied near the courthouse waving South Korean flags. Soon, they tried to march on the court and called for “destroying” it. When the police blocked them, some of the mostly elderly protesters attacked the officers with flagpoles, hurling water bottles and pieces of the sidewalk pavement. Two pro-Park demonstrators, ages 60 and 72, died during the unrest.

Ms. Park did not comment on the ruling, and remained in the presidential palace after her removal from power. But In Myung-jin, the leader of Ms. Park’s conservative Liberty Korea Party, said he “humbly respected” the ruling.

With the immunity conferred by her office now gone, Ms. Park, 65, faces prosecutors seeking to charge her with bribery, extortion and abuse of power in connection with allegations of conspiring with a confidante, her childhood friend Choi Soon-sil, to collect tens of millions of dollars in bribes from companies like Samsung.


3 die in protests after South Korean president removed from office

South Korea has been plunged into a period of political uncertainty after the President, Park Geun-hye, was forced out of office by a corruption scandal.

The country's Constitutional Court upheld a parliamentary vote to impeach Park over allegations of corruption and cronyism. She becomes the country's first democratically elected leader to be forcibly removed.

Three people have died amid chaotic protests in the capital, Seoul. Seoul police spokesman Kim Tae-won told CNN Saturday that one protestor died in a local hospital where he was being treated. Two others were confirmed dead Friday by firefighters overseeing emergency medical services on the scene of the protests. Dozens of people were injured.

Thousands demonstrated after the unanimous decision by eight judges was read out down in a live broadcast that gripped the nation.

The decision brings the career of South Korea's first female president to an inglorious end. It also comes at a pivotal moment for the region, as North Korea ramps up its nuclear weapons testing program.

Here are the main developments:
  • Stripped of her immunity, Park is liable to prosecution.
  • A snap presidential election will be held within 60 days.
  • Turmoil comes as tensions rise with North Korea and China.
  • Acting president warns North Korea may take advantage the uncertainty.
  • The scandal has also entangled the acting head of Samsung.
What happened?
Park was brought down by a corruption scandal that has dominated South Korean politics for months.

The President was accused of being unduly influenced by her longtime friend and adviser, Choi Soon-sil, who is on trial for abuse of power and fraud.

The Constitutional Court agreed with accusations that Park had abused her authority in helping Choi raise donations from companies for foundations she had set up.

"We announce the decision as the unanimous opinion of all judges. We dismiss the defendant President Park," said Justice Lee Jung-mi.

An election for Park's replacement must be held within 60 days, and an ad-hoc cabinet meeting will be held soon, a government official told CNN.

With Park's ruling conservatives looking out of favor, it seems likely the country will turn to the left-wing opposition, which has signaled it would be likely to pursue a policy of engagement with the North. A left-wing government would also place into question the continued deployment in South Korea of a US missile defense system, which is bitterly opposed by China.

Liberal candidate Moon Jae-in, of the opposition Democratic United Party, currently leads the opinion polls. Moon was defeated narrowly by Park in 2012.

Chaos on the streets
Soon after the court's ruling, acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn appealed for unity, acknowledging that the conflict had polarized the nation. South Koreans on opposing sides saw each other as "enemies," he said in a televised address. "Now is the time, however, for acceptance," he said.

Supporters of South Korean President Park Geun-hye are blocked by police officers as they march toward the Constitutional Court.

As the court's decision was delivered, a group of around 100 Park supporters tried to break through police lines near the court, and a number fell and were injured. "We lost our liberty. We lost our Korea," one protestor told CNN.

Anti-Park demonstrators also took the streets, some crying tears of joy and pumping fists in celebration, as applause rang out from the crowd. Many had camped out in the streets overnight in the cold.

Police had issued the highest level of emergency order possible in Seoul ahead of the announcement. About 21,000 officers were on standby for the protests, with 270 units mobilized.

Fall from grace
Park's election in 2013 as the South Korea's first female president was widely celebrated as a milestone. But her fumbled response to a ferry disaster tainted her rule, and allegations about her relationship to Choi emerged during 2016.

Choi was arrested after being accused of abusing her relationship with the President. She denies claims that she forced companies to donate millions of dollars to foundations she had established.

The case widened to ensnare Lee Jae-yong, the acting head of electronics giant Samsung.

Prosecutors allege that Lee pledged tens of millions of dollars to win favor with Park and secure government support for a merger that helped tighten his grip on the company. He is on trial for charges of bribery and corruption, which he denies.

In December, lawmakers voted to impeach Park by a vote of 234 to 56, stripping away her executive powers. Since then she has remained in the presidential palace, known as the Blue House, but has remained largely out of public view.

Friday's ruling means Park loses the protection from prosecution she enjoyed as president and that she could now face a formal investigation.

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