10 March, 2017
The South Korean Constitutional Court has removed President Park Geun-hye from office.
All eight members of the court agreed with a National Assembly measure calling for her removal.
The eight worked to rule on the case by Friday before term limits reduced the normally nine-member court to seven justices.
The South Korean constitution requires at least six justices to agree on any impeachment vote by the National Assembly.
Chief Justice Park Han-chul was forced to leave the court in January when his term ended. Monday will be the last day of Acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi's term.
Constitutional court's ruling
Lee read the ruling from the court's offices in Seoul on Friday. She said Park's "acts of violating the Constitution and law are a betrayal of the public trust."
The court also criticized Park for being uncooperative and evasive in the investigations. It said she tried to stop the legislature from acting as a "check and balance" on presidential powers.
The court said Park worked with a close friend to pressure large Korean companies to donate nearly $70 million to two organizations. Government lawyers had also accused the friend, Choi Soon-sil, of sending some of the money to businesses that she and her friends owned.
"These violations undermine the rule of law and a representative democracy," said the acting chief justice.
Government lawyers studied reports that people close to the president were using her office to raise millions of dollars. Park has repeatedly denied the charges against her.
Until the reports of corruption appeared, many South Koreans believed she was a strong and honest leader.
Protests near the court house
Two people died in protests near the court building after the ruling was announced. Thousands of Park supporters and opponents held competing demonstrations in the area. More than 21,000 police officers were sent there to prevent clashes between the groups.
The constitution requires Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn to set a date for a new presidential election. The vote is to be held within 60 days.
U.S. reaction to the ruling
In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner released a statement after the court's ruling. It said the United States "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 whomsoever the people of South Korea elect to be the next president."
The statement said the United States will continue to be a "steadfast ally, friend and partner" to South Korea, "especially with respect to defending against the threat from North Korea."
The South Korean military has been watching North Korea closely since the impeachment vote to guard against North Korean interference in the South's politics.
Park's family in South Korean politics
The 64-year-old Park was the country's first female head of state. She is now the first democratically elected South Korean president to be removed from office.
Park had been part of the nation's political community since she was a child. She is the daughter of former president Park Chung-hee, who ruled from 1961 to 1979.
She helped her father for five years after her mother, who was well-liked in South Korea, was shot to death by a North Korean agent. The killer was aiming for the president.
Park Chung-hee was killed by the head of South Korea's intelligence agency in 1979.
Before becoming president, Park Guen-hye served five terms as a lawmaker. She campaigned unsuccessfully for president before winning election to a five year term.
In December, 234 members of the 300-seat National Assembly voted to impeach her.
Park said any actions she took were to benefit the country. She said she has never personally benefited from her time in office. She apologized publicly three times for not knowing that people close to her may have been involved in some wrongdoing.
While in office, she could not be tried on criminal charges. Earlier this week, a special prosecutor was named to investigate the charges of corruption.
I'm Mario Ritter.
VOA's Brian Padden, Youmi Kim and Fern Robinson reported this story for VOANews. Padded and Kim reported from Seoul. Robinson reported from Washington. John Smith adapted their report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
impeach – v. to charge (a public official) with a crime done while in office
betray – v. to do something that does not agree with (your beliefs, principles, etc.)
evasive – adj. not honest or direct
checks and balances – n. a system in which the different parts of an organization (such as a government) have powers that affect and control the other parts so that no part can become too powerful
tenure – n. the amount of time that a person holds a job, office or title
steadfast – adj. very devoted or loyal to a person, belief, or cause; not changing
benefit – v. to be useful or helpful to (someone or something)