In Multipolarity

News compilation on New Cold War.org, March 11, 2017

South Korea braces for more rallies after constitutional court removes corrupt, conservative president

By Kim Tong-Hyung, Associated Press, Saturday, March 10, 2017

Demonstrators against South Korea’s ousted leader Park Geun-hye at rally in Seoul on March 11, 2017 (Liu Yun, Xinhua)

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean police on Saturday braced for more violence between opponents and supporters of ousted President Park Geun-hye, who was stripped of her powers by the Constitutional Court over a corruption scandal that has plunged the country into a political turmoil.

Three people died and dozens were injured in clashes between police and Park’s supporters after the ruling Friday, according to police, which detained seven protesters for questioning. The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency was planning to deploy nearly 20,000 officers and hundreds of buses to separate the two crowds, whose passionate rallies have divided the streets near the presidential palace in the past several weekends as the scandal worsened.

The court’s decision capped a stunning fall for the country’s first female leader. Park rode a wave of lingering conservative nostalgia for her late dictator father to victory in 2012, only to see her presidency crumble as millions of furious protesters filled the nation’s streets.

The ruling allows possible criminal proceedings against the 65-year-old Park — prosecutors have already named her a criminal suspect — and makes her South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be removed from office since democracy replaced dictatorship in the late 1980s. It also deepens South Korea’s political and security uncertainty as it faces existential threats from North Korea, reported economic retaliation from a China furious about Seoul’s cooperation with the U.S. on an anti-missile system, and questions in Seoul about the new Trump administration’s commitment to the countries’ security alliance.

South Korea must now hold an election within two months to choose Park’s successor. Liberal Moon Jae-in, who lost to Park in the 2012 election, currently enjoys a comfortable lead in opinion surveys.

Kim Yong-deok, the chief of the National Election Commission, said Saturday that the election will be managed “accurately and perfectly” and urged the public to participate in a vote that would “determine the fate of the Republic of Korea,” referring to South Korea’s formal name.

Park’s “acts of violating the constitution and law are a betrayal of the public trust,” Acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi said. “The benefits of protecting the constitution that can be earned by dismissing the defendant are overwhelmingly big. Hereupon, in a unanimous decision by the court panel, we issue a verdict: We dismiss the defendant, President Park Geun-hye.”

Lee accused Park of colluding with longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil to extort tens of millions of dollars from businesses and letting Choi, a private citizen, meddle in state affairs and receive and look at documents with state secrets. Those allegations were previously made by prosecutors, but Park has refused to undergo any questioning, citing a law that gives a sitting leader immunity from prosecution. It is not clear when prosecutors will try to interview her.

Park hasn’t vacated the presidential Blue House yet, as her aides are preparing for her return to her private home in southern Seoul, according to her office. Park has not made a public statement on her removal.

Park’s lawyer, Seo Seok-gu, who had previously compared her impeachment to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, called the verdict a “tragic decision” made under popular pressure and questioned the fairness of what he called a “kangaroo court.”

Pre-verdict surveys showed that 70 to 80 per cent of South Koreans wanted the court to approve Park’s impeachment. But there have been worries that Park’s ouster would further polarize the country and cause violence.

Sensing history, thousands of people — both pro-Park supporters, many of them dressed in army-style fatigues and wearing red berets, and those who wanted Park gone — gathered around the Constitutional Court building and a huge public square in downtown Seoul. Some of Park’s supporters reacted with anger after the ruling, shouting and hitting police officers and reporters with plastic flag poles and steel ladders and climbing on police buses. Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, the acting head of state, pleaded for peace and urge protesters to move on. Anti-Park protesters celebrated by marching in the streets near the Blue House, carrying flags, signs and an effigy of Park dressed in prison clothes and tied up with rope.

Police and hospital officials said three people died while protesting Park’s removal. A man in his 70s, believed to be a Park supporter, died after a large speaker that had been mounted on a police truck fell on his head, police said. They are questioning a Park supporter who allegedly knocked off the speaker by stealing a police bus and crashing it into the truck.

Police said that another man in his 70s died early Saturday after collapsing near the court. An official from the nearby Kangbuk Samsung Hospital said another man brought from the pro-Park rally died shortly after receiving CPR at the hospital.

Prosecutors have arrested and indicted a slew of high-profile figures over the scandal, including Park’s confidante Choi, top Park administration officials and Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong.

Associated Press writers Hyung-jing Kim and Foster Klug contributed to this report.


South Koreans celebrate Park’s ouster in last, festive candlelight rally

Xinhua News Agency, Saturday, March 11, 2017

SEOUL – Hundreds of thousands of South Koreans took to the streets on Saturday night for a last, festive candlelight rally to celebrate former President Park Geun-hye’s ouster.

The constitutional court handed down a unanimous ruling Friday to force Park out of office. Park became the first South Korean president to be ousted through impeachment.

The streets and roads along the Gwanghwamun Square in downtown Seoul were crowded with people welcoming the court’s decision. Some took a selfie in celebration of the historic moment, with others setting off fireworks. Groups of musicians rollicked around, playing traditional South Korean percussion. During the main event, jubilant people with a candle in their hands cheered each other as they took part in the rally that lasted ever Saturday night for the past five months.

It was the last candlelight vigil as the scandal-hit president was permanently removed from office. Participants called for Park’s imprisonment and the transfer of presidential power.

“It was a victory in the square and the politics of candlelight,” one speaker said on the main stage. He demanded Park be imprisoned and the presidential Blue House be searched over an influence-peddling scandal.

Park, 65, was subject to criminal indictment and detention as she lost her immunity as the head of state. Prosecutors have branded Park as an accomplice of Choi Soon-sil, Park’s decades-long confidante who is now in custody for multiple charges including bribery.

According to a local pollster survey, 69.4 per cent respondents said Park should be taken into custody for investigation. Those in favor of probe without detention were 17.8 per cent, while just 9.6 per cent people were against any investigation.

An overwhelming majority of South Koreans, both liberal and conservative, demanded in one voice that corruptions and unfairness be cleared away. “The ancient regime symbolized by Park Geun-hye came to an end, and a new era will be ushered in,” said Peter Lee, an office worker who attended the boisterous candlelight vigil.

Lee said both progressive and conservative voters shouted in union for the end of the Park government, which he said would be the best legacy left behind candlelight vigils. Park’s ouster means justice still prevails in South Korea, he added.

But the possibility of conflicts still remains. Hundreds of meters away from the square, loyalists to Park held a separate rally, refusing to accept the court’s decision. They claimed that Park is innocent and the trial is unconstitutional.

Three Park supporters died in the pro-Park demonstration on Friday as enraged protesters clashed with riot police following the court’s ruling to uphold the impeachment motion.

According to the Realmeter poll, 86 per cent of people believed the court’s ruling was right. Only 12 per cent said it was not right, with 2 per cent declining to reply. A whopping 92 percent said people should accept the court’s decision. Those against the ruling took up just 6 percent of the total respondents.


South Koreans stunned by leader’s rapid ouster

By Foster Klug, Associated Press, Mar. 10, 2017

SEOUL, South Korea — This was not supposed to happen in South Korea. It was too divided, too corrupt, too much in thrall to the rich and powerful who’d always had their way.

Four months ago, the idea that the country’s leader, along with the cream of South Korean business and politics, would be knocked from command after sustained, massive, peaceful protests would have been ludicrous. Now Park Geun-hye, thanks to a court ruling Friday, is no longer president and may very well face criminal extortion and other charges. The head of the country’s biggest company, Samsung, sits in jail, when he’s not in a courtroom facing trial for bribery and embezzlement linked to the corruption scandal that felled Park. And a Who’s Who of once untouchables languishes behind bars waiting for their day in court.

This swift upending of the status quo has so shaken the country’s foundations that it has left people here a bit stunned. Now comes the hard part. South Koreans will look to take their peaceful revolution — and the genuine sense of empowerment that many of the average citizens who took to the streets in protest, week after week, now feel at their accomplishment — and turn it into lasting progress.

Among the first of the many big, uneasy questions that linger over this enterprise: What happens next?

In the short term, at least, the answer is more politics, and of the lightning-quick variety. Half a dozen or so candidates will now scramble, over the next two months, for a shot at becoming the next president of South Korea. Elections will likely come May 9. The current smart money is on a liberal — Moon Jae-in, who lost to Park in 2012 and who now leads in early polls — but conservatives, though in disarray and currently viewed as toxic by many South Koreans of all political stripes, still have strong bastions of support in the country’s south, if a charismatic candidate arises.

The qualities of the next leader will help answer another fundamental question: Will the confidence that many won from South Korea’s version of “people power” last?

South Korea is no stranger to rapid, intense change. The country whiplashed from Japan’s colonization to total war in the 1950s, to an economic “miracle” of rebuilding supported by a brutal dictatorship, to one of the world’s most successful democracies. Just below the surface have always lurked deep social and political divisions — between conservative and liberal, rich and poor, men and women. The entrenched elite often seemed to just chug along, untouched. If they did topple from power or privilege, it was because of violent change, when the streets filled with tear gas and riots, not, as in past months, singing, smiling families of all social classes and political backgrounds. Park’s fall may have shattered that pattern.

Among the changes: an energized citizenry who can now point to concrete proof that they can make a real difference when they’re united, and an eagerness among civic groups to build on their ability to turn popular anger into peaceful protests that actually worked.

There’s no guarantee that any of this will last.

“Now is a critical transition moment,” said John Delury, an Asia expert at Yonsei University in Seoul. “Starting tomorrow, the question is, where does all this energy go? The unifying factor was a focus on getting rid of a problem. Now, they have to figure out, how do you turn that energy into something more constructive than destructive?”

If Moon, the leading liberal candidate, wins the presidency, one big change could be North Korea. Moon was an aide in the 2000s to late liberal President Roh Moo-hyun who pursued the so-called Sunshine Policy. This rapprochement effort with the North included big trade and cultural exchanges, and was criticized, and later scrapped, by conservatives because Pyongyang was simultaneously expanding its nuclear weapons and missiles programs. Moon as president would push for more dialogue with the North and would likely reopen an industrial park in the North that was jointly run by the Koreas before Park closed it last year following a nuclear test and long-range rocket launch by Pyongyang.

The reaction to this possible new approach from conservatives in Japan and the United States, and, indeed, from the numerous South Koreans who distrust Pyongyang, will be just one of many unknowns that will play out as South Korea enters this new political realm.

Whoever leads will have an unusually strong mandate in what has typically been a starkly divided country. For this momentum to last, South Koreans may have to resist a natural urge to relax, to bask.

One conservative newspaper, the Herald Business, likened what South Koreans have just gone through to the chaos at the end of World War II, when the Korean Peninsula was liberated from Japanese rule and then divided by U.S. and Soviet forces. The paper suggested in a Friday editorial that people should “calmly return to their daily lives.”

The next months will see if a newly inspired public, fresh off of flooding the nation’s streets until their leaders acted, embrace that advice.

Foster Klug is Associated Press Seoul bureau chief and has covered the Koreas since 2005. Follow him at www.twitter.com/apklug

Further reading:
What’s behind ouster of South Korean leader, by Foster Klug, Associated Press, March 10, 2017

President Park’s impeachment, THAAD missile system implanted by U.S.: Security tensions mounting on Korean peninsula, RT.com, March 10, 2017

Why U.S. antimissile system in South Korea worries China, by Chris Buckley, New York Times, March 11, 2017

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