South Koreans reacted with joy and anger as the nation’s former President Park Geun-hye was officially expelled from office in a historic court ruling Friday.
While a majority of the public heaved a sigh of relief and expressed joy at the Constitutional Court’s decision to finalize the impeachment of the disgraced leader, a smaller group of staunch Park supporters vehemently protested. Two died of injuries while protesting.
Park supporters shed tears (The Korea Herald)
Even before dawn, the tension was palpable near the top court in central Seoul, with the streets filled with protestors rallying for and against Park.
From 7:50 a.m., Park’s loyal supporters started to chant “reject the impeachment” and began singing Korean folk songs.
“I arrived here around dawn, as I was so worried that the eight justices may make a wrong decision, influenced by biased media and prosecutors,” a 63-year-old Park supporter, Shim Min-sik, told The Korea Herald.
Across the street, an estimated 1,000 anti-Park protesters held placards that read “We trust in you, the Constitutional Court,” “Impeach the President” and “Send Park to prison.”
When the verdict hearing commenced at 11 a.m., people on both sides of the street fixed their eyes on smartphone screens and listened closely, as the court’s acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi read the verdict for about 20 minutes.
As it became clear that the court’s decision was against Park, a loud clamor “We won!” and clapping rippled through the crowd on the anti-Park side.
Some shed tears of joy, shouting, “Democracy has won!”
Anti-Park protesters rejoice (The Korea Herald)
“We are one step closer to making Korea a true democracy. The Constitutional Court’s ruling was the same as what most people had expected,” said 53-year-old Kwon Hyuk-chul, who was clapping enthusiastically.
Just 100 meters away, across the street, others let out deep sighs, with a few elderly men tilting their heads and asking one another, “Did the court really say Park is expelled?”
The pro-Park protestors burst into a rendition of the national anthem in tears, chanting “We are one until the end.”
“I can’t believe they really impeached someone who did nothing wrong. This is complete nonsense,” a pro-Park supporter told The Korea Herald.
Later at around 1 p.m., a 72-year-old man surnamed Kim was found bleeding from his head on the ground during a violent street rally in central Seoul in protest against the Constitutional Court’s decision. He was rushed to a hospital but was pronounced dead there at around 1:50 p.m., according to the police.
The other man, also surnamed Kim, 60, was found unconscious at a subway station near the court at around 12:15 p.m., police said.
At least 10 more have been taken to hospitals for injuries as of Friday at 5 p.m., with two of them unconscious, the police said.
Pro-Park groups said that they will continue their protest, with a nonstop sit-in near the court. They also vowed to begin a signature-collecting campaign calling for Park’s reinstatement.
A man is injured (The Korea Herald)
The nation was on high alert Friday due to the historic ruling, which decided the fate of Park’s presidency amid a sharp divide among the public over what to do with her.
After the verdict was announced, acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn ordered heightened military and police vigilance to maintain public safety.
Police buses line up next to the Constitutional Court (The Korea Herald)
Some 21,000 police officers were dispatched near the court. A dozen police buses were lined up to block access to the Constitutional Court, the Blue House and other major locations of possible clashes. The police used tear gas, at one point after the verdict, to disperse angry demonstrators.
The anti-Park protesters, who have been holding candlelight vigils almost every Saturday evening since the scandal erupted in late October, gathered in Gwanghwamun Square at 7 p.m. to celebrate their victory.
They said they will hold the last candlelight vigil on Saturday at 4 p.m., ending the monthslong campaign to expel Park on a high note.
Chae Young-hyun, one of the lucky 24 who was invited to the courtroom in an online random selection, said he felt gratitude at being able to witness the historic scene.
“I did not expect to be one of the lucky 24. I’m satisfied with the court’s decision,” said the 59-year-old teacher from South Gyeongsang Province.
“Those who commit a crime must follow the verdict and get punishment. I hope today’s verdict will set a cornerstone for Korea to develop as a constitutional nation,” Chae told The Korea Herald.
Children protest against former-President Park Geun-hye (The Korea Herald)
The Constitutional Court said Thursday that a total of 19,096 citizens applied to enter the courtroom as part of the audience to hear the final verdict on Park’s impeachment trial. A total of 24 citizens were selected randomly online.
The Korea Herald by Herald Corporation
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