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Vote to impeach South Korean president solves ‘a lot of the chaos of the nation,’ assembly speaker says

South Korea’s national legislature on Friday voted to impeach President Park Geun-hye. The decision has sent millions into the streets in protest.

South Korea’s national legislature on Friday voted to impeach President Park Geun-hye, the latest and most dramatic development in a mushrooming political scandal that has sent millions into the streets in protest.

The decision, supported by members of Park’s own conservative ruling party, suspends the president’s power in favor of the prime minister, Hwang Kyo-ahn.

Hwang will assume a caretaker role as head of state while a constitutional court decides whether to remove Park permanently, a process that could take months.

“With the impeachment motion passing the national assembly, we have solved a lot of the chaos of the nation,” National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun said after the vote.

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The impeachment caps Park’s rapid descent in recent weeks after allegations that a longtime confidant — a woman who had no official role in the government — accessed classified material and used her influence to extort donations from large business conglomerates.

Controversy about the case, which has roiled presidential politics here and engulfed the nation’s news coverage, prompted South Koreans to join massive and historic public vigils in recent weeks.

The protests started small but have swelled over the last several weekends, with as many as 2.3 million taking the streets across the country last week to call for Park’s ouster.

The president had been set to leave office in February 2018 after an election in December. Her approval ratings have remained in single digits in recent weeks.

Despite the political pressure to resign, it was far from a certainty that the legislature would vote to impeach Park. The opposition parties do not have enough members in the National Assembly to reach the two-thirds vote they needed to remove Park, requiring some support from her party. Adding to the drama, Friday was to be the lawmakers’ last scheduled workday of 2016.

Opposition leaders had expected defections from the ruling party against Park, whose father was a military dictator who ruled South Korea in the 1970s.

The scandal centers on the longtime confidant, the daughter of a deceased cult leader with his own close ties to the president.

The confidant, Choi Soon-sil, remains jailed on an array of charges. As a result of the scandal, two presidential aides have been accused of abusing their power, and a music video director is accused of using ties to Choi to win lucrative contracts from state agencies and private companies.

Prosecutors have said Park is a suspect in the case, though she enjoys immunity from prosecution in standard criminal cases as president. She would probably retain that immunity as the court decides her fate.

Park has acknowledged making management mistakes in her office but has denied acting outside the public’s interest or doing anything to enrich herself.

Stiles is a special correspondent.

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UPDATES:

11:19 p.m.: This article was updated with a comment from National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun.

This article was originally published at 11:10 p.m.


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