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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Saturday, April 21, 2018

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South Korea plunges into turmoil after impeached President is formally ousted

Corruption scandal widens national divide

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SEOUL, South Korea - The South Korea's Constitutional Court formally ousted the country’s impeached first female President Park Geun-hye on Friday amid the spiraling corruption and influence peddling scandal. > BNN

The ruling delivered by the eight-member panel opens her up to possible criminal proceedings.

Acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi said Park's "acts of violating the constitution and law are a betrayal of the public trust. 

Jung-mi added, “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."

Park, who has already been named as a criminal suspect by prosecutors, is now South Korea's first democratically elected leader to be removed from office since democracy replaced dictatorship in the late 1980s.

As part of the probe, prosecutors have so far indicted about 40 people, including Samsung Electronics Co. heir-apparent Jay Y. Lee.

Meanwhile, Park's lawyer, Seo Seok-gu said the verdict was a "tragic decision" made under popular pressure and questioned the fairness of what he called a "kangaroo court."

The scandal, that has worsened the political turmoil and the national divide in the country has seen hundreds of thousands of protesters take to the streets of Seoul for weekly demonstrations against Park over the last few months. 

However on Friday, post the ouster, two people died in the protests that broke out across Seoul.

The protests witnessed thousands of people, wearing red berets, gathering around the Constitutional Court building in the capital, and in downtown Seoul’s public square area and grew violent post the unanimous ruling. 

According to reports, anti-Park protesters marched along streets near the presidential Blue House, carrying flags and signs. Social media photos showed protesters also carrying an effigy of Park, dressed in prison clothes and tied up with rope.

Reports noted that some of Park’s supporters reacted violently, abusing and launching attacks on police officers with plastic flag poles, with some even mounting police buses.

As the day progressed, authorities confirmed that a 70-year-old Park supporter, who had sustained head injuries, died after falling from one of the buses. 

About an hour later, a second person was killed in the commotion. 

The corruption controversy involving the highest echelons of power snowballed late last year over accusations that Park colluded with close friend Choi Soon-sil to pressure big businesses to donate to two foundations set up to back the president’s policy initiatives.

Subsequently, Park was indicted on December 9, after the South Korean parliament voted in favour of her impeachment by a huge 234-56 margin. 

She was stripped of her powers while the constitutional court decided whether to uphold parliament’s impeachment vote.

Park’s ouster however has submerged the deeply troubled country into further darkness as it continues to face increasing threat from its rival and neighbor, North Korea and a soon threatening stance from China, that has already taken economic measures following the dispute over the installation of the THAAD anti-missile, in collaboration with the U.S.

Now, South Korea has to hold an election within 60 days to choose Park’s successor. 

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who was appointed acting president, will remain in that post until the election.

On Friday, Presidential front-runner Moon Jae-in said in a statement, “History is moving forward with the great power of the people. The Republic of Korea will now restart upon this new and amazing experience.”

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