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Park Geun-hye, Ousted South Korean Leader, Leaves Presidential Palace

Ms. Park, who has been pressured by the opposition to publicly accept the court’s ruling and whose own party said it “humbly respected” the decision, hinted that she disagreed with it. “It will take time,” she said, “but I am sure that the truth will be known.”

As the motorcade carrying Ms. Park arrived at the house where she lived from 1990 to 2013, it pulled past hundreds of supporters lining the alley and waving national flags.

Ms. Park, who has now lost the privilege of immunity that came with the presidency, stepped out of the car, smiled and shook hands with former aides and party lawmakers who waited for her in front of her house.

Supporters said they could not accept the Constitutional Court ruling, and held up a variety of signs to express that sentiment: “You are our president forever!” “We love you,” and “Park Geun-hye, the president of the people, welcome back!”

After the court announced its decision on Friday, the flag showing two phoenixes, the presidential symbol of South Korea, was lowered from a Blue House flagpole, but despite the huge significance of her removal from office, Ms. Park could not immediately move out for a prosaic reason.

Ms. Park’s private home in southern Seoul, which has been unoccupied for the past four years, needed repair. In the past couple of days, workers have been busy fixing its broken boiler, installing new furniture and redecorating rooms.

After the ruling was announced on Friday, thousands of Park supporters, mostly older conservatives, tried to march on the courthouse and called for its destruction, with some clashing with police officers who blocked them with a barricade of buses.

Three men, in their 60s and 70s, died during the clashes. One of the men died after a steel police speaker fell on his head, and a protester has been arrested on charges of stealing a police bus and ramming it into another, causing the speaker to fall.

On Saturday, Park supporters rallied in central Seoul, vowing to start a political party to fight “pro-North Korea” leftists who they said conspired to bring down Ms. Park and calling the Constitutional Court ruling “sedition.” No violence was reported.

Later, as dusk fell on Saturday, hundreds of thousands of South Koreans gathered in central Seoul to celebrate Ms. Park’s ouster, dancing to the Queen song “We Are the Champions” and releasing firecrackers. They regard her removal as a key step toward ending what they see as corrupt ties between government and business that have hindered the country for decades.

Ms. Park’s opponents organized huge candlelight rallies week after week, for months, forcing prosecutors to investigate allegations that Ms. Park conspired with her secretive confidante, Choi Soon-sil, to extort millions of dollars from big businesses. Many protesters held signs on Saturday that said: “Now, the next step is to arrest Park Geun-hye!”

A reinvigorated news media also helped precipitate Ms. Park’s downfall by exposing incriminating details, like a tablet computer belonging to Ms. Choi that proved her influence in state affairs.

As Ms. Park’s approval ratings plummeted, the usually sympathetic conservative news media also turned against her, leaving her with few allies beyond right-wing bloggers and some old conservatives who believed that Ms. Park had been framed and that her downfall would bring about a pro-North Korean leftist government.

The National Assembly voted to impeach Ms. Park on Dec. 9, asking the Constitutional Court to formally unseat her. Because she was ousted through impeachment, she lost the privileges the government provides to a former president — including a $ 10,500 monthly pension payment, an office, a small staff of aides and free medical service — but she will receive police protection.

Now an ordinary citizen, Ms. Park is likely to be the subject of a criminal investigation into whether she engaged in corruption. Prosecutors have said she conspired with Ms. Choi to collect tens of millions of dollars from big businesses, like Samsung, and that some of the money represented bribes for political favors.

When prosecutors indicted Ms. Choi and Lee Jae-yong, the de facto head of Samsung, on bribery and other charges, the prosecutors formally identified Ms. Park as a criminal accomplice. But they could not bring charges against her because she was protected from indictment while in office.

Moon Jae-in, an opposition leader who leads the race to replace Ms. Park, criticized her on Sunday for failing to announce in public that she accepts the court ruling.

Speaking at a news conference, he also said prosecutors should open their corruption investigation into Ms. Park immediately, and warned that she should not remove any potential evidence while moving out of the Blue House.

Ms. Park has blocked prosecutors from searching her office. When the Constitutional Court ruled against her, it criticized Ms. Park for failing to cooperate with investigators, for trying to hide her wrongdoings, and for impeding the National Assembly’s and the media’s right to know.

When Ms. Park was elected as president in late 2012, it marked a triumphant return to the Blue House, where she lived from 1961, when her father, Maj. Gen. Park Chung-hee, seized power in a military coup, until 1979, when he was assassinated.

Now, Ms. Park has left it again — almost certainly for the final time — disgraced, deeply unpopular and as a criminal suspect.

Source: NYT > World

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