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Tension mounts as impeachment ruling looms

Tension is rising in South Korea as the nation awaits a court ruling on the fate of the Park Geun-hye presidency, expected to be out as early as this week.

The Constitutional Court’s eight justices on Sunday continued their closed-door sessions to deliberate on the legality of Park’s parliamentary impeachment on Dec. 9 amid a sharp national divide over what to do with the disgraced leader.

The Constitutional Court’s acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi enters the court in Jongno, Seoul, Sunday. Yonhap
The Constitutional Court’s acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi enters the court in Jongno, Seoul, Sunday. Yonhap

The general consensus is that the court will unveil on Tuesday the date for the historic ruling on the nation’s second presidential impeachment case. It is widely expected to be either Friday or March 13, before one of the top court’s justices retires and creates another vacancy on the bench. The bench already has one vacancy after Chief Justice Park Han-chul retired in January.

Rival camps for and against the embattled president are expected to make a final pitch in the coming days.

A pro-impeachment protest organizer said Sunday that it will hold massive rallies in central Seoul and other major cities in the run-up to the impeachment verdict day. 

The participants will march toward the presidential Blue House and the Constitutional Court to urge the court to remove Park from office, upholding the National Assembly’s impeachment motion against her.

Conservative forces and Park’s sympathizers will also be gathering at another massive rally to support the sanctioned leader on the verdict day, according to a pro-Park rally organizer.

Police will deploy a large number of officers to keep order and prevent possible clashes between the participants of the two rallies.

Since last Tuesday, the eight justices have been holding deliberation sessions to decide whether Park has violated the law and the Constitution and whether the violations are serious enough to strip her of her presidency.

The sessions are to review testimony and statements, including 50,000 pages of investigation reports, of 25 witnesses through the 17 hearings in the past months, and to exchange their opinions on the case.

For security reasons, the justices are said to be making two versions of the verdict --for and against the impeachment-- and vote on which one to use at the last minute. 

President Park is under 13 allegations filed up by the National Assembly last December, including that Park helped her close friend Choi Soon-sil, who holds no government post, meddle in state affairs and pursue personal gains. 

She is also under suspicion of failing to protect citizens during the deadly Sewol ferry incident in 2014, which claimed around 300 lives.

The court’s ruling to oust Park requires the approval of at least six of the court’s eight justices.

In the closing argument read out by her lawyer, the beleaguered president pleaded her innocence, reiterating her earlier stance that she has never pursued personal benefits and was not aware of irregularities committed by her aides and acquaintances, including Choi Soon-sil.

Park’s legal team insists that the charges raised against Park are exaggerated and fabricated based on false news reports.

“There was no evidence at all (to prove Park’s misdeed) when the impeachment was passed, and all that the court accepted as evidence were investigation reports which are obviously biased and in favor of the parliament,” Park’s lawyer Lee Joong-hwan said during the court hearing earlier.

The parliament, on the other side, sees more than enough evidence to warrant Park’s removal.

“Park’s breaches of Constitution and laws are too obvious and serious,” said the National Assembly’s legal representative during the closing argument.

By Bak Se-hwan (