2 Protesters Killed After South Korean Court Upholds Impeachment of President Park Geun-hye
Two protesters died during demonstrations in the South Korean capital Friday, after the country’s president was removed from office over alleged corruption.
A statement from acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn also said that several people were injured during the protests in Seoul. It called the casualties regrettable and didn’t provide further details on the deaths.
Earlier Friday, Park Geun-hye’s presidency came to an end after a Constitutional Court upheld a December impeachment by South Korean lawmakers.
South Koreans immediately took to the streets in their thousands, with some groups protesting against the decision and others wildly celebrating her removal from power in emotional, sometimes violent scenes.
The country’s political stability is crucial to the security of the region — it is a key buttress against North Korea, its provocative neighbor, and a major trading partner with the US and its Asian neighbors.
Here are the main developments from the day:
South Korea’s first female president becomes the first to be ousted as a result of impeachment. At least two people die as pro- and anti-Park protests fill the streets of the capital; injuries also reported. Now stripped of her immunity, Park is liable to prosecution for the scandal that brought about her removal. Park supporters are cordoned off by police. North Korea says Park will be investigated “as a common criminal.”
Thousands of Park’s supporters waved South Korean flags as they stood on main thoroughfares near the Constitutional Court.
Some pro-Park demonstrators, who had been corralled by police in riot gear and strategically placed police buses around 200 meters (650 ft) from the court, rocked the buses in an attempt to overturn them, while others clambered on the roofs of neighboring vehicles.
“We lost our liberty. We lost our Korea,” one protestor told Paula Hancocks live on air.
“We cannot understand impeachment for our president,” another said. “She is still our president, tomorrow she will be our president.”
CNN witnessed some protesters collapsing as a combination of emotion and exhaustion overcame them.
Those who opposed Park’s presidency celebrated wildly as the verdict was delivered on live TV. Many endured long, freezing nights protesting her tenure as leader, camping out through long winter nights holding candlelit vigils.
They will likely hold another candlelight vigil, as a last celebration, as night falls.
The unprecedented decision was unanimous, with all eight judges on the court voting to remove Park, the country’s first female president, from office. South Koreans immediately took to the streets, with some groups protesting against the decision and others celebrating her removal from power.
The decision was revealed by Justice Lee Jung-mi Friday in a live broadcast that gripped the nation.
“We announce the decision as the unanimous opinion of all judges. We dismiss the defendant President Park,” said Lee Jung-mi.
Park is the first South Korean president to be thrown out of office by the court. An election for her replacement must be held within 60 days, with Prime Minister and acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn to set the day. An adhoc Cabinet meeting will be held soon, a government official told CNN.
Park’s ouster means she loses the protection from prosecution she enjoyed as president. She could now face a formal investigation into her role in the corruption scandal which led to her impeachment.
Fall from grace
Since her impeachment by lawmakers in December, Park has remained in the presidential Blue House, but has remained largely out of public view.
The court upheld the impeachment because she was judged to have abused her authority in helping Choi raise donations from companies.
In a televised apology, Park said Choi looked at “some documents” for a certain period of time after Park took office, but didn’t specify what they were.
“I am shocked and my heart is breaking for causing public concern,” Park said.
Though she never held an official position, revelations showed that Choi was also given advance access to presidential speeches and other documents.
Choi is currently on trial for abuse of power and fraud. She denies all charges against her.
State Dept: Relations will continue as normal
The US, a key ally, responded to the decision by offering assurances that the two countries’ relationship would continue uninterrupted.
“We will continue to work with Prime Minister Hwang for the remainder of his tenure as acting President, and we look forward to a productive relationship with whomever the people of South Korea elect to be their next president,” acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.
“The US-ROK alliance will continue to be a linchpin of regional stability and security, and we will continue to meet all our alliance commitments, especially with respect to defending against the threat from North Korea.”
North Korea’s official news agency noted that her immunity had been stripped, reporting that she “will be receiving (a) full-scale investigation” as a “common criminal.”
Park is not the first South Korea president to have faced impeachment. In 2004, late President Roh Moo-hyun was forced out of office for two months. However, the Constitutional Court later restored Roh to power, rejecting charges of abuse of power and mismanagement.