South Korean constitutional court upholds impeachment of President Park


South Korea's President Park Geun-hye has become the country's first democratically elected leader to be forced from office.

When Park Geun-hye won a grueling presidential election in December 2012 in defiance of most exit polls, the outside world extolled her as East Asia's first-ever female leader.

In a ruling read out live on TV as both supporters and opponents massed around the court, the court said the president "seriously impaired the spirit of. democracy and the rule of law".

Choi Soon-sil and two presidential aides face charges of fraud, coercion and abuse of power over allegations she used her connections to Park to squeeze money out of businesses.

The ruling finally brings down the curtain on a standoff that has plunged the country into chaos since the scandal broke in October previous year. A snap presidential election will be held within 60 days.

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Observers had pointed out that a conservative propensity had led the court to agree on dissolving the Unified Progressive Party in 2014, acknowledging its pro-North Korea doctrine and conspiracy to overthrow the South Korean administration. Park refused to be questioned by the special prosecutors.

Park has also been accused of supporting two foundations controlled by Choi for her friend's "pursuit of personal interests" and Park's unconstitutional and law-breaking activities were continually carried out while she was in office, the verdict said. Park supporters, gathered near Seoul's Constitutional Court and reportedly numbering in the thousands, were hemmed by a ring of police officers and vehicles.

"If Park had made more effort, she would have been able to grasp the seriousness of the Sewol accident by 10 the latest", said Kim Yi-soo and Lee Jin-sung in a concurring opinion.

As a politician, she basked in solid support from voters nostalgic for her father, who despite his iron-fisted rule engineered a meteoric economic ascent dubbed "the Miracle on the Han River".

The election could see the installment of a liberal leader after nearly a decade of conservative rule under Park and her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak. Despite weeks of hearings, Park never appeared before the court for questioning. Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn was appointed acting president.

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Liberal politicians have tapped into voter disappointment with calls for a change of administration after almost 10 years of conservative rule.

Jan 1, 2017: Park denies wrongdoing, calling accusations "fabrication and falsehood".

Samsung's de facto head, Lee Jae-yong, went on trial Thursday on a range of charges including bribery, embezzlement and perjury over the case, and Choi has been on trial for months.

When Park was ejected from office after a parliamentary vote on December 9, she had an approval rating of just five per cent and her ouster was preceeded by massive demonstrations.

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