South Koreans celebrate amid fears of political uncertainty

A protester wearing a mask of South Korean President Park Geun Hye taking part in a rally in Seoul's Gwanghwamun Square, as the crowd marched towards the presidential Blue House yesterday.
A protester wearing a mask of South Korean President Park Geun Hye taking part in a rally in Seoul's Gwanghwamun Square, as the crowd marched towards the presidential Blue House yesterday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Thousands attend rally to cheer impeachment vote; interim leader vows steps to ease concern

SEOUL • Tens of thousands of people celebrated the impeachment of South Korean President Park Geun Hye at a rally in Seoul yesterday, but amid the euphoria, there was lingering anger and anxiety at the prospect of an extended period of political uncertainty.

For the seventh straight week, protesters gathered en masse on the streets of the capital, but the mood was generally festive, after lawmakers on Friday voted overwhelmingly to impeach the deeply unpopular Ms Park over a corruption scandal.

Although the move has stripped Ms Park of her substantial executive powers, activists said they intended to keep up the pressure, with the impeachment still requiring final approval from the Constitutional Court - a process that could take months.

And many were adamant that the President should resign immediately and face criminal prosecution.

"We are still hungry," chanted the crowd, estimated at around 200,000, in Seoul's Gwanghwamun Square.

GOVT TAKING ACTION

The government is carrying out all measures necessary to prevent any government vacuum and ease the people's anxiety.

PRIME MINISTER HWANG KYO AHN

The country now faces a lengthy period of uncertainty at a time of slowing economic growth and elevated military tensions with the nuclear-armed North Korea.

The man charged with steering the country through these dangerous waters is Ms Park's Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn, who became the temporary guardian of her sweeping executive powers the moment she was impeached.

Mr Hwang sought to strike a reassuring tone during an emergency Cabinet meeting yesterday.

"The government is carrying out all measures necessary to prevent any government vacuum and ease the people's anxiety," he said.

Until the Constitutional Court rules, Ms Park's authority is only suspended and she retains the title of president and the immunity from prosecution that goes with it.

And she still has her supporters, many of them elderly voters who remain steadfast admirers of her father, the late military dictator Park Chung Hee. A pro-Park rally in Seoul earlier yesterday drew about 15,000 people.

Ms Park was impeached on numerous counts of constitutional and criminal violations, ranging from a failure to protect people's lives to bribery and abuse of power.

Most of the charges stemmed from an investigation into a scandal involving her longtime friend, Choi Soon Sil, who is currently awaiting trial for fraud and embezzlement.

Prosecutors have named Ms Park a suspect in the case, saying that she colluded in Choi's efforts to strong-arm donations from large companies worth tens of millions of dollars.

The impeachment process was ignited and fuelled by public outrage at Ms Park's behaviour, with weekly mass demonstrations attended by up to a million people demanding that she be removed from the presidential Blue House.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 11, 2016, with the headline 'S. Koreans celebrate amid fears of political uncertainty'. Print Edition | Subscribe