South Korea’s Constitutional Court removed President Park Geun-hye from office on Friday over a graft scandal as the younger and older generations in the country expressed mixed feelings about the ruling.
The scandal involves the country’s conglomerates at a time of rising tensions with North Korea and China.
The ruling sparked protests from hundreds of her supporters, two of whom were killed in clashes with police outside the court.
Millions of South Koreans, increasingly frustrated over broad economic and social challenges, have gathered for weekly protests demanding Park’s removal over a wide-ranging corruption scandal.
Around 3,000 anti-Park demonstrators, mostly in their 20s to 40s, erupted with joy as the verdict was read out in a live television broadcast, while some of her diehard supporters, mostly older conservatives with fond memories of the rule of her late father, dictator Park Chung-Hee, still stand by her.
Park becomes South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be forced from office, capping months of paralysis and turmoil over a corruption scandal that also landed the head of the Samsung conglomerate in jail.
A snap presidential election will be held within 60 days.
She did not appear in court and a spokesman said she would not be making any comment nor would she leave the presidential Blue House residence on Friday. She was stripped of her powers after parliament voted to impeach her but has remained in the president’s official compound.
The court’s acting chief judge, Lee Jung-mi, said Park had violated the constitution and law “throughout her term”, and despite the objections of parliament and the media, she had concealed the truth and cracked down on critics. Park has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing.
The ruling to uphold parliament’s Dec. 9 vote to impeach her marks a dramatic fall from grace of South Korea’s first woman president and daughter of Cold War military dictator Park Chung-hee, both of whose parents were assassinated.
Park, 65, no longer has immunity as president, and could now face criminal charges over bribery, extortion and abuse of power in connection with allegations of conspiring with her friend, Choi Soon-sil.
Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn was appointed acting president and will remain in that post until the election. He called on Park’s supporters and opponents to put their differences aside to prevent deeper division.
A liberal presidential candidate, Moon Jae-in, is leading in opinion polls to succeed Park, with 32 percent in one released on Friday. Hwang, who has not said whether he will seek the presidency, leads among conservatives, none of whom has more than single-digit poll ratings.
Park was accused of colluding with her friend, Choi, and a former presidential aide, both of whom have been on trial, to pressure big businesses to donate to two foundations set up to back her policy initiatives.
Park was also accused of soliciting bribes from the head of the Samsung Group for government favors, including backing a merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015 that was seen as supporting family succession and control over the country’s largest “chaebol” or conglomerate.
Samsung Group leader Jay Y. Lee has been accused of bribery and embezzlement in connection with the scandal and is in detention. His trial began on Thursday. He and Samsung have denied wrongdoing.
North Korean state media wasted little time labelling Park a criminal.
“She had one more year left as ‘president’ but, now she’s been ousted, she will be investigated as a common criminal,” the North’s state KCNA news agency said shortly after the court decision.