The crowd bursts into cheers on Friday as thousands of demonstrators against President Park Geun-hye rally outside the conditional court in the South Korean capital to hear the impeachment verdict.
A sense of victory could be seen in the faces of the anti-Park protestors, some of them holding placards that read “No THAAD.”
The main street through downtown Seoul was barricaded after the court’s ruling, broadcast live nationwide. But enraged Park loyalists rushed to the wall of police buses. Two protesters died and dozens more were injured.
The unanimous decision of eight justices finally put an end to South Korea’s long-dragging political saga that arose from a corruption scandal involving its first female leader and conglomerates which have plunged the country into turmoil and deepened the national divide.
“The removal of the president from office is to the benefit and the protection of the constitution … We remove President Park Geun-hye from office,” Lee Jung-mi, the court’s acting chief judge, told the hearing.
Park had violated the constitution and law “throughout her term,” said the chief judge.
However, in spite of the objections of parliament and continued rallies urging her resignation, Park had held back the truth and denied all wrongdoings.
She did not show up in court on Friday.
The impeachment ruling to uphold the parliament’s Dec. 9 vote marks a dramatic fall from grace of Park, the daughter of Park Chung-hee, an assassinated military strongman and a leader who industrialized South Korea.
A total of 20 hearings had been held in 92 days before a final decision was made.
No longer holding immunity as a president, Park could face indictment and detention brought by criminal charges of bribery, extortion, and abuse of power in connection with allegations of conspiring with her friend, Choi Soon-sil.
Park, 65, was required by law to leave the presidential Blue House, a place brimming with childhood memories, with her five-year tenure incomplete.
As the first child of Park Chung-hee, Park moved into Chong Wa Dae with her father at the age of 11. She served as the “first lady” for five years after her mother was killed in a 1974 assassination attempt. She was forced to leave the presidential office after her father was assassinated in 1979.
The emergence of a corruption scandal embroiling Park and her longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil has stunned many South Koreans since she was portrayed as aloof figure and also an unassailable icon, especially among conservative voters.
The court ruling, a relief for those who have joined candle-lit rallies in Seoul for weeks, was a defeat for the longtime “princess” of South Korea, who once said she was married to the country and South Koreans are her family.
The removal of Park from office came at a critical juncture amid escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Park’s decision to cooperate with the United States on the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in the country’s Southeast has sparked criticism and public protests and enraged its neighbors, including China, Russia and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
In response to the deployment plan and an ongoing South Korea-U.S. military drills, the DPRK reportedly test-fired four ballistic missiles into waters off its east coast, the second of its kind in less than a month if confirmed.
The THAAD system undermines China’s strategic security, and China has opposed its deployment from the start, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told a press conference on the sidelines of an annual legislative session in Beijing on Wednesday.
“It’s not the way neighbors should behave with each other, and it may very well make the ROK less secure,” he said, warning that those who pursue the deployment of THAAD will end up merely hurting themselves.
In the eyes of many observers as well as the ordinary people in South Korea, the anti-missile batteries, while being of little help to bolster the country’s security, are built only to accommodate the strategic security needs of the United States.
Instead of promoting peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, the military build-up would ramp up the risks of a full-blown confrontation in the region with South Korea bearing the brunt of any conflict, they said.
Focus now shifts to a presidential election to be held in 60 days, with the hope that a new administration will lead the country out of its present quagmire.
Story by Xinhua.