South Korean President Park Geun-hye's Impeachment Is Upheld By Court : The Two-Way The country's first female president makes history again, this time, as the first South Korean leader to be removed from office.

South Korean Judges Uphold President Park Geun-hye's Impeachment

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And those are sounds from the city of Seoul this morning, celebration in the streets following a historic ruling in South Korea that has ousted that nation's president from office. The highest court in the country upheld a vote by lawmakers to impeach President Park Geun-hye over allegations of corruption and abuse of power. NPR's Elise Hu has been covering this story, and she's in Seoul. Good morning, Elise.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So how big a deal is this?

HU: It's huge, David. It's historic. She is the first South Korean leader to be removed from office by impeachment. And Park is making history for the second time because she was also the nation's first female president. This ouster here is also a big deal in the context of who Park Geun-hye is. She's the daughter of the country's longtime dictator, Park Chung-hee, who ruled South Korea for a lot of the 1960s and 1970s. Older generations of Koreans have a lot of nostalgia for him, which actually helped the younger Park's political career. But now her legacy is mired in scandal and this constitutional defeat. Park will have to return to life as a private citizen. And the placeholder South Korean leaders, who are led now by an acting president, are calling for unity in this moment.

GREENE: Well, it sounds like what many people want to do in this moment is celebrate. I mean, you were outside that courtroom. People seemed jubilant.

HU: Well, they're relieved more than anything else because the wait for this impeachment trial and decision has lasted several months, so the anticipation was really thick. And thousands of Park supporters, of course, aren't so ecstatic about this decision. They crowded on one street in front of the court. Park opponents took up a different street. Both sides had giant screens that are used for outdoor concerts to stream the ruling's announcement. And on the anti-Park, pro-impeachment side, once that decision was read, it was really like being at the end of a college sports championship where the crowd just goes crazy. Take a listen.

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GREENE: My God, that sounds like a winning touchdown being scored. Amazing.

HU: (Laughter) Yeah, exactly. But on the other side, Park supporters reacted quite emotionally and some of them violently, breaking police vehicle windows. So far, a news photographer has been injured and two demonstrators have died in the chaos outside the courthouse.

GREENE: Elise, you've been covering this story for months now. For people who haven't been following every twist and turn, remind us how we got here.

HU: President Park is actually named as a criminal suspect in South Korea's largest-ever political corruption scandal. She's accused of secretly entrusting government decisions to an old friend of hers named Choi Soon-sil who held no official title. And she's also accused of working in concert with this Choi to extort some $70 million in bribes from major companies, like Samsung, that wanted to stay in the government's favor. Park herself has denied the charges, but since prosecutors have already named her as an accomplice, she could now face criminal charges. She was previously immune from them as president. Now that immunity is gone; so is her $10,000 a month government pension.

GREENE: So what happens next?

HU: There's no president. There's this acting president. And campaign season has essentially begun because this decision triggers a snap election, which is expected to happen in early May. The Park government - her ministers and her prime minister - will continue until the new leader is elected. All the while, of course, there's the question of North Korea and its advancing missile program. And the U.S. is beginning to deploy a controversial missile defense system in South Korea. So what this means for a lot of the security questions in the region is an open question.

GREENE: OK. It is official this morning, the president of South Korea has been ousted from office. That's NPR's Elise Hu in Seoul. Thanks, Elise.

HU: You bet.

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