South Korean President Park Geun-hye was ousted as the country’s head of state on Friday after the constitutional court upheld a motion to impeach the scandal-ridden leader.
The court’s acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi read the ruling on the impeachment, broadcast live nationwide, saying it was the unanimous decision of eight justices.
South Koreans, who had called for Park’s resignation, cheered outside the court in downtown Seoul after hearing the impeachment ruling.
A tearful mother and her daughter were among the anti-Park protesters who held placards that read “Impeachment is Victory of Candlelight Vigil” and “No THAAD.”
Park’s supporters, who rallied just hundreds of meters away on the street, remained silent and burst into tears following the verdict.
Some of the president’s loyalists attempted to break into the court building and clashed with the police.
Local media reported that two of Park’s supporters died of unidentified reasons during the rally. One of the dead is in his 70s.
Opinion polls have never changed in recent months, with almost eight out of 10 South Koreans demanding Park’s ouster. About 15 percent people have insisted on the rejection or no decision on the impeachment.
By law, the court’s ruling takes effect immediately after the reading. Park will be required to leave the presidential Blue House as she officially lost all of her presidential power as well as her title as the incumbent president.
A presidential election will be held in 60 days.
President Park became the first South Korean leader to be forcibly removed from office by the impeachment. She was also the second president to be impeached in the country’s constitutional history.
In March 2004, then President Roh Moo-hyun was impeached for his call on voters to support his own party in the parliamentary elections of that year. About two months later, he was reinstated as the court ruled that his violation of an election law was not grave enough to boot him from office.
Park’s ouster is an unprecedented event in South Korea’s modern history, as there is no specific law stipulating that the impeached leader must leave the Cheong Wa Dae by a given date.
Lee Jae-myung from the Minjoo Party, mayor of Seongnam city to the southeast of Seoul, said, “Today is a great day for people. Impeachment is the start to build a fair country free from corruption, foul play and privilege.”
“Genuine unity will only be made possible when completely clearing away the legacy of old days,” he added.
Cheong Wook-sik, director of local advocacy group Peace Network, believed the result was not surprising.
“President Park breached the constitution and fell short of people’s expectations,” he said.
Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Friday said he respected the court’s decision.
Only when people, especially those who protested against the impeachment, accepted the ruling, “can the rule of law, which is the basic value of the South Korean constitution, stand upright,” Ban was quoted as by Yonhap news agency as saying.
Since the Dec. 9 passage in the National Assembly of the impeachment bill, a total of 20 hearings had been held in the court. It took 92 days before the court’s final decision, longer than the 64 days required for the 2004 ruling on Roh’s impeachment. During the 64-day period, only seven hearings were held in 2004.
Park will be subject to indictment and detention by prosecutors as she lost her presidential immunity following the court’s ruling.
Prosecutors have identified Park as an accomplice of her longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil, who is at the center of a corruption scandal that led to Park’s impeachment for multiple charges including bribery.
Park will also be stripped of most of privileges granted to former president, including monthly pension worth 12 million won (10,400 U.S. dollars) to 13 million won per month, one paid chauffeur and three paid secretaries. Free medicine and costs for a personal office will not be given to the impeached leader.
For the forcibly impeached leader, the period during which the presidential security service provides guards would be reduced from 10 years to five years. After the five-year period, police officers will guard the impeached leader.
Meanwhile, the South Korean military has been ordered to put on vigilance against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea given South Korea’s current political situation, according to the Yonhap news agency.
U.S. State Department acting spokesman Mark Toner said in Washington DC that the United States will continue to work with Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn for the remainder of his tenure as the acting president.
“We look forward to a productive relationship with whomever the people of South Korea elect to be their next president,” Toner said.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan will continue to cooperate with South Korea after the country’s Constitutional Court upheld the impeachment of President Park. (PNA/Xinhua)