South Korea’s top court has unanimously ruled to formally end impeached Park Geun-hye’s presidency over a corruption scandal that has plunged the country into political turmoil.
The Constitutional Court’s ruling on Friday sparked violent protests from Park’s supporters, two of whom later succumbed to their wounds following clashes with police outside the building in downtown Seoul, according to authorities.
Dozens of protesters and police officers were also wounded in the scuffles.
In contrast, tens of thousands of South Koreans occupied a square in front of an old palace in the capital to celebrate Park’s ousting.
The ruling opens Park, who no longer has immunity as a president, up to possible criminal proceedings – prosecutors have already named her a criminal suspect.
It also marks the first time a South Korean president has been ousted before the end of their term since democracy replaced dictatorship in the late 1980s.
Election law now requires a snap poll to be held within 60 days.
Park, 65, has been accused of colluding with a friend, Choi Soon-sil, 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.
She is also accused of soliciting bribes from the head of the Samsung Group for government favours including the backing of a merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015 that was seen to support the succession of control over the country’s largest “chaebol” conglomerate.
Park has denied any wrongdoing, but apologised for putting trust in her friend.
Park’s action had “seriously impaired the spirit of ... democracy and the rule of law,” said constitutional court chief justice Lee Jung-Mi. “President Park Geun-hye ... has been dismissed.”
Prosecutors have arrested and indicted a slew of high-profile figures over the scandal, including Park’s confidante Choi Soon-sil, top Park administration officials and Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong.
But Park has avoided a direct investigation thanks to a law that gives a sitting president immunity from prosecution for most of alleged crimes.
Since she’s now no longer in power, prosecutors can summon, question and possibly arrest her.
Park will not vacate the official residence of the president of South Korea, the Blue House, on Friday as her aides are preparing for her return to her private home in southern Seoul.
She was not planning any statement on Friday, the Blue House said.
“That’s been one of the uncertainties today because we are in unchartered territory,” Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Seoul, said.
“It was thought in one stage that the ruling would mean she would have to leave immediately but that doesn’t seem to be the case. She is there for this evening and we expect her to leave sometime over the weekend.”
Park’s parliamentary impeachment in December came after weeks of Saturday rallies that drew millions who wanted her resignation.
Overwhelmed by the biggest rallies in decades, the voices of Park supporters were largely ignored. But they have recently regrouped and staged fierce pro-Park rallies.
In anticipation of the ruling, Park supporters, many of them dressed in army-style fatigues and wearing red berets, and those who want Park gone began showing up around the Constitutional Court building.