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South Korean President Impeached

Roh political supporters had staged a three-day sit-in to prevent Speaker of the Assembly Park Kwan-yong from presiding over the impeachment. Opposition party members and security personnel moved in Friday and physically dragged the protesters off the speaker’s podium just prior to the final vote.

Despite a boycott by many supporters of the president, the 193-2 vote met the necessary two-thirds requirement of the 273-seat National Assembly.

“You asked for it,” Park said as Uri Party lawmakers were dragged away yelling, “Stop the coup.”

Outside the National Assembly, hundreds of Roh supporters protested, while impeachment-backers held their own rally several blocks away. One Roh supporter soaked himself in flammable liquid and set himself ablaze.

Roh had tried to diffuse the situation by apologizing, but his statement was rejected by Millennium Democratic Party, the group spearheading the impeachment. Roh belonged to the Millennium Democratic Party before switching to the Uri Party in September 2003.

“Regardless of which side is wrong, I offer my sincere apology for the situation in which the political confrontation has led to an impeachment move against me,” Roh said.

The impeachment is now in the hands of the Constitutional Court, where it will need the approval of the six of the court’s nine judges. Until the ruling — which can take up to six months — the president’s powers are suspended. Prime Minister Goh Kun will assume leadership of the country until then.

Roh remains calm and optimistic.

“I hope that within a few months, I will be able to carry on my job as president,” he said. “I will neither get frustrated nor give up.”

The impeachment charges stem from accusations that Roh violated South Korea’s presidential impartiality law by calling for support for the Uri Party in the upcoming April parliamentary elections. Corruption and financial scandals surrounding some of Roh’s top aids have also tarnished the president.

The political turmoil comes at a time when the South Korean government is struggling with a faltering economy, as well as ongoing negotiations to resolve nuclear proliferation with neighboring North Korea.

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