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South Korean lawmakers set impeachment vote in motion
[Seoul] South Korea's parliament on Thursday introduced an impeachment motion against President Park Geun-Hye, ahead of a vote seeking her ouster over a corruption scandal that has riveted the country and paralysed her administration.
The motion, which accuses Ms Park of constitutional and criminal violations ranging from a failure to protect people's lives to bribery and abuse of power, will be put to a full vote of the National Assembly on Friday.
If adopted, it will go to the Constitutional Court for final approval which, if granted, would result in Ms Park becoming the first democratically elected South Korean president not to complete her full five-year term.
Ms Park has said she would accept a parliamentary decision to impeach her, but also that she would remain in office while the motion is being considered by the court - a process that could take months.
In the meantime, however, her powers would be suspended and transferred to her prime minister, leaving her with nothing but the title.
The passage to impeachment has been a fitful one, and to a large extent driven by massive protests that have seen millions take to the streets of Seoul and other cities in recent weeks, demanding political parties remove Ms Park if she refuses to step down.
The public pressure has been crucial in pressuring enough members of Park's Saenuri Party to support the opposition-sponsored motion and provide the two-thirds majority required for adoption.
When it was filed last week, the motion carried the 171 signatures of all opposition and independent lawmakers - leaving it 29 short of the majority needed to clear the 300-seat chamber.
An anti-Park faction within the Saenuri party - numbering more than 30 MPs - has repeatedly hedged its options, but now looks set to support the motion, especially after party whips said members could vote according to their conscience.
"The impeachment process and its result will set a new standard for governing the nation and state affairs," said the head of the faction, Kim Moo-Sung.
"I am certain that it will significantly reduce the abuse of power," he added.
The main opposition Democratic Party refused to speculate on the final outcome, but seemed quietly confident.
"Since it's an anonymous vote, you never know until you open the lid," said party spokeswoman Kang Sun-A.
The move to impeach is the result of a scandal centred on Ms Park's relationship with a long-time friend and confidante, Choi Soon-Sil.
Ms Choi is now awaiting trial on charges of fraud and abuse of power, and, in a first for a sitting president, prosecutors have named Ms Park a suspect in the case.
Ms Choi is specifically accused of meddling in state affairs and using her Blue House connections to force dozens of conglomerates to donate tens of millions of dollars to two dubious foundations she controlled.
In drawing up the motion, the opposition tagged on other accusations against Ms Park, aside from the role she allegedly played in abetting Ms Choi's activities.
In particular, they have dragged up a long-running controversy over Ms Park's reaction to the Sewol ferry disaster of 2014 that claimed more than 300 lives - most of them children.
Questions have been raised over Ms Park's activities during a seven-hour period after she was initially informed of the Sewol incident and before her first appearance at an official meeting to discuss the government's response.
Unconfirmed media reports have suggested an astonishing range of the stories about Park's whereabouts, including a romantic liaison, participation in a shamanistic ritual, cosmetic surgery or, most recently, a 90-minute haircut.
The presidential Blue House has denied all of them, but failed to provide a detailed schedule of the president's actual movements at the time.
The impeachment motion says Park failed to respond adequately to the Sewol sinking, in violation of her constitutional duty to protect the lives of Korean citizens.