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South Korea is in an uproar. Crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands have been surging through the streets of Seoul, the capital city. Some of the marchers are celebrating a ruling Friday by the Constitutional Court, which has upheld the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. Others who support the president have been angrily denouncing the court, leading to clashes with police that have resulted in the deaths of two protesters.

All of this turmoil is taking place against the backdrop of ominous gestures from North Korea, which fired off a salvo of four medium-range missiles in a test Monday. The distance traveled by the missiles would have enabled them to hit a U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

A rally in Seoul, South Korea, on Friday calling for the arrest of Park Geun-hye, who was removed from the presidency by the country’s Constitutional Court. Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

There was no hesitation, no ambiguity. On Friday, all eight judges on South Korea’s Constitutional Court voted to remove Park Geun-hye from the presidency.

The historic vote sent shivers down the spines of many South Koreans. Three months ago, the National Assembly impeached Ms. Park on charges of corruption, breach of trust and dereliction of duty. Ms. Park has denied the charges, but the justices disagreed, saying she abused her authority.

Ms. Park is now an ordinary citizen. Without presidential immunity, she will most likely face criminal charges. It is a rapid fall from grace for a woman who became the first female president of South Korea, and now the first president to be stripped legally of her position.…  Seguir leyendo »

For South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye, the jury is quite literally still out. Impeached by the country’s National Assembly on 9 December over claims of corruption, cronyism and influence peddling, she defiantly rejected – in a detailed statement – all of the charges leveled at her by an independent prosecutor. Any resolution of the issue must now await the ruling of the country’s Constitutional Court on the legitimacy of the impeachment vote – a decision that most likely will come early in the new year.

For the special prosecutor’s office, which is due to start its formal investigation on 21 December, the challenge is to find unambiguous evidence of the president’s direct responsibility for any of the corruption that may have taken place.…  Seguir leyendo »

The impeachment by the South Korean national assembly of President Park Geun-hye has not only sent shockwaves through Korea and its neighbors, but also caused great confusion. Nothing quite like this has ever happened in South Korea before.

The scandal that toppled her is the stuff of B-movie plots. President Park Geun-hye, daughter of the strongman who presided over much of South Korea's economic miracle, had formed a close bond with Choi Soon-sil, the daughter of one of Korea's most senior shamans The friendship began apparently at a moment of stress soon after Park's father's assassination in 1979.

Breaking many security rules, she shared state secrets with Choi, who seems to have had a hand in writing some of President Park's speeches.…  Seguir leyendo »

The president of South Korea has announced she is willing to resign before the end of her five-year term. Park Geun-Hye made the announcement during her third televised apology to the nation, over a corruption scandal that has gripped the country for weeks.

She has left it to the National Assembly to decide the timing of her departure for a smooth transition of power.

The move comes only two days after her refusal to step down and has been interpreted as an attempt to head off an impending impeachment in the National Assembly, and as a concession to a series of large protests by South Koreans.…  Seguir leyendo »

Protesters wearing cut-outs of South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Choi Soon-sil attend a protest denouncing the president. Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

The allegations involving South Korean President Park Geun-hye and her friend of 40 years, Choi Soon-Sil, has all the hallmarks of an old-fashioned scandal in the country. But things are nonetheless not looking good for the president.

The plotline is mundane: Choi allegedly extorted US$69 million from South Korean conglomerates (known as chaebol), including Samsung, Hyundai, LG, Lotte, and others, for personal use – in the form of donations to two foundations she controlled.

If this is true, it has certainly happened before. The practice of extracting slush funds from chaebol is called rent-sharing.

In the past, it has involved companies paying large amounts of money to the president to obtain monopoly rights, gain access to government capital, garner patents, avoid sanctions or punishments, and secure tax reductions.…  Seguir leyendo »

Protesters wearing masks of President Park Geun-hye of Korea, forward, and her confidante Choi Soon-sil, rear, in Seoul last month. Credit Jung Yeon-Je/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

President Park Geun-hye of South Korea was destined to be a political leader. She grew up in the presidential residence as a daughter of South Korea’s longest-ruling dictator, Park Chung-hee. After her mother died in a 1974 assassination attempt against her father, Ms. Park became the country’s de facto first lady. She later was a lawmaker for 15 years, crafting an image as a deft politician while helping to build a conservative party with national security and economic growth as its core message. She became the country’s first female president in 2013.

Ms. Park’s personal history and image as a corruption-free conservative have been her main political assets.…  Seguir leyendo »

South Korea is in the midst of an unprecedented political crisis, the worst since the restoration of democracy in 1987. The latest flare-up could potentially result in President Park Geun-hye’s resignation, a profoundly damaged and irreparably weakened presidency, a massive altering of the political landscape more than a year before the next presidential election in December 2017, and a growing impetus to revise the 1987 constitution.

On Monday, longtime presidential confidant Choi Soon-sil was arrested by the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office after revelations that she was deeply involved in affairs of state without any formal role in the Park administration. Indeed, the local press has dubbed Choi the “President of the Night” to highlight her behind-the-scenes influence in shaping critical national policies, creating new policy initiatives, planting her cronies in ministries and agencies, enriching her family and her associates through lucrative government contracts and real estate purchases, and twisting the arms of leading Korean conglomerates to “donate” millions of dollars to two foundations that she spearheaded.…  Seguir leyendo »