S Korean lawmakers impeach scandal-hit president

South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn arrive to attend an emergency cabinet meeting at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul
PHOTO: Reuters

SEOUL - South Korean lawmakers on Friday voted to impeach President Park Geun-Hye, stripping away her sweeping executive powers over a corruption scandal and opening a new period of national uncertainty.

The National Assembly ballot immediately transferred Park's authority to the prime minister, pending a decision by the Constitutional Court on whether to ratify the decision and permanently remove the president from office.

A ruling could take up to six months, during which time Park will remain in the presidential Blue House - a leader in name only.

The situation leaves South Korea facing an extended stretch of political anxiety and policy paralysis at a time of slowing economic growth, rising unemployment and elevated military tensions with nuclear-armed North Korea.

"I am so sorry for all South Koreans that I created this national chaos with my carelessness," Park said in a televised statement after the vote.

"But we should not let our guard down for a single minute, given the grave situation we face at home and abroad from our economy to the national defence.

S Korea President Park Geun-hye may have undergone various anti-aging medical procedures

"In this time of uncertainty, the lives of our people should never be disregarded," she said calling on the government to unite and minimise any fallout from the resulting power vacuum.

The motion to impeach was adopted by 234 votes to 56, easily securing the required two-thirds majority in the 300-seat chamber and triggering wild celebrations among hundreds of anti-Park activists gathered outside the National Assembly.

"This is a great moment," said a beaming Kim Jun-Hweh, 21. "This is what we wanted, and we want her kicked out of the Blue House now." It has been a startling fall from grace for a politician who had run for the Blue House as an incorruptible candidate, declaring herself beholden to nobody and "married to the nation".

After just under four years in power, she now faces the prospect of going down in history as the first democratically-elected South Korean president to be kicked out of office.

The impeachment motion had accused Park of constitutional and criminal violations ranging from a failure to protect people's lives to bribery and abuse of power.

Supported by all 171 opposition and independent lawmakers, its adoption was made possible by an anti-Park faction within the president's Saenuri party.

Tens of thousands of South Koreans stage protest in Seoul calling for President Park Geun Hye to resign

  • Tens of thousands of unionized workers staged a general strike and students boycotted classes Wednesday, upping pressure on President Park Geun-hye to resign.
  • Demanding the president's immediate resignation, civic groups, the workers and students vowed to hold a large-scale rally Saturday.
  • An association of 500 civic groups declared Wednesday as "a day of citizens' resistance," staging rallies in front of City Hall in central Seoul and in major cities from 3 p.m. More universities also joined a boycott of classes to ramp up pressure on Park.
  • "Ignoring people's calls for an immediate resignation, Park shifted responsibility (for her resignation) to the parliament," Choi Jong-jin, acting chief of the nation's second-largest umbrella labour union KCTU, said during the rally in central Seoul.
  • Some 220,000 workers from the public transport, public service, construction and education industries under the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions joined the partial strike by taking a day off or leaving work early.
  • Students from 17 universities, including Sookmyung Women's University, Sogang University and Korea University, began to boycott their classes Friday. A few more schools including Seoul National University and Kookmin University joined the boycott Wednesday. Incheon University, Inha University and Pusan National University will join the move from Thursday.
  • Starting at 4 p.m., some 20,000 laborers marched across central Seoul and stopped at the headquarters of major conglomerates including Samsung, SK, Lotte, GS and Hanhwa, which are suspected of contributing money to the K-Sports and Mir foundations set up and run by Park's close confidante Choi Soon-sil.
  • The rally organizers initially planned to march to a fountain only 100 meters away from the presidential office, but the police blocked their plan, citing traffic disruption.
  • The sixth anti-Park rally will be held Saturday at Gwanghwamun Square. As with last Saturday's rally, organizers said some 100,000 participants will completely surround the presidential office from several locations starting from 4 pm.
  • Tens of thousands of South Koreans protested in central Seoul on Saturday (Nov 5) in one the largest demonstrations in the country's capital for years, calling on embattled President Park Geun Hye to resign over a growing influence-peddling scandal.
  • Roughly 43,000 people were at the candle-lit rally early on Saturday (Nov 5) evening, according to police. Organisers said a growing crowd of 100,000 had assembled, making the protest one of the biggest since demonstrations in 2008 against US beef imports.
  • Park Geun Hye has been rocked by a scandal involving an old friend who is alleged to have used her closeness to the president to meddle in state affairs. Ms Park has pledged to cooperate with prosecutors in an investigation.
  • Koreans have been angered by the revelations and say Ms Park, the latest South Korean leader to be embroiled in a scandal involving family or friends, has betrayed public trust and mismanaged her government.
  • Her approval rating has slipped to just 5 per cent according to a Gallup poll released on Friday (Nov 4), the lowest number for a South Korean president since such polling began in 1988.
  • Police said they had deployed 17,600 officers and 220 units including buses and mobile barriers to Saturday's protest. Police in riot gear lined the alleys and streets leading to the presidential Blue House as the main body of the demonstration began the march through central Seoul.
  • Ms Park has sacked many of her immediate advisers over the crisis. A former aide, Jeong Ho Seong, was arrested on Thursday (Nov 3) on suspicion of leaking classified information, a prosecution official told Reuters.
  • No South Korean president has ever failed to finish their five-year term, but Ms Park has faced growing pressure from the public and political opponents to quit.
  • "Even though we're just students, we feel like we can't put up with this unreasonable society anymore so we're participating in this protest with like-minded friends," said Mr Byun Woo Hyuk, an 18-year-old high school student holding a banner calling on the president to resign.

The result means Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-Ahn, a former prosecutor who has never held elected office, suddenly finds himself in charge of Asia's fourth largest economy and supreme commander of its armed forces.

In a televised address just hours after the vote, Hwang stressed that the country was primed to respond to any North Korean provocation.

"The government will maintain a watertight national defence posture," Hwang said, pledging to keep the country safe and prosperous.

"We will stabilise the financial and currency markets and make efforts to maintain South Korea's sovereign ratings," he said.

The push for impeachment was driven by massive protests that have seen millions take to the streets of Seoul and other cities in recent weeks, demanding Park's ouster.

"This has been an honourable civil revolution in which our people defeated an incompetent leader," the president of the main opposition Democratic Party said after the vote.

The scandal that felled Park focused on her friendship with long-time confidante Choi Soon-Sil.

The ‘female Rasputin’ at centre of S Korean President Park Geun-Hye political scandal

  • South Korean President Park Geun-Hye is facing calls to resign over allegations she allowed a close personal friend to meddle in state affairs.
  • People watch a television news report showing South Korean President Park Geun-Hye making a public apology, at a railway station in Seoul on October 25, 2016.
  • South Korean President Park Geun-hye bows after releasing a statement of apology to the public during a news conference at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, October 25, 2016.
  • South Korea’s presidential office said on Saturday it was cooperating with prosecutors’investigation into key aides to President Park Geun-hye over allegations an old friend of hers enjoyed inappropriate influence over her.
  • Prosecutors’ request for presidential Blue House documents came ahead of an evening protest expected to draw thousands in central Seoul calling for Park’s resignation amid a scandal that has cast her presidency into crisis.
  • A woman attends a protest denouncing President Park Geun-hye over a recent influence-peddling scandal in central Seoul
  • Protestors hang a caricature showing South Korean President Park Geun-Hye (L) and her confidante Choi Soon-Sil (C), on a board during a rally denouncing a scandal over President Park's aide in Seoul on October 27, 2016.
  • South Korean prosecutors on October 27 set up a high-powered "task-force" to probe a widening scandal involving alleged influence-peddling by a close confidante of President Park Geun-Hye. Choi Soon-Sil, an enigmatic woman with no government position, was already part of an investigation into allegations that she used her relationship with the president to strong-arm conglomerates into multi-million dollar donations to two non-profit foundations.
  • Park’s office said late on Friday she had ordered her senior secretaries to tender their resignations, and she will reshuffle the office in the near future. Her chief of staff separately offered to resign earlier, the office said.
  • The deepening crisis over allegations that Park’s friend, Choi Soon-sil, enjoyed inappropriate influence over her has sent her public support to an all-time low, with more than 40 percent in an opinion poll saying Park should resign or be impeached.

Choi is awaiting trial on charges of meddling in state affairs and using her Blue House connections to force dozens of conglomerates to donate around $70 million to two foundations she controlled.

In a first for a sitting South Korean president, Park has been named a "suspect" by prosecutors investigating the case.

The Constitutional Court is expected to validate her impeachment, starting the clock running on a 60-day window for holding fresh presidential elections.

"The political paralysis that has enveloped governmental decision-making over the past month is likely to continue for at least the next four to eight months," said Scott Snyder, a Korea specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

"That makes it potentially more vulnerable to North Korean provocations, but the situation also makes it more likely that the Korean public would expect a strong response to any attempt to take undue advantage of South Korea's political crisis," Snyder said.

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