North Korea wasted no time in bashing South Korea’s ousted president Friday, calling her a “common criminal” – and signaling that the countries’ decades-long war was no close to ending.
The South Korean leader, Park Geun-hye, “had one more year left as ‘president’ but, now she’s been ousted, she will be investigated as a common criminal,” North Korea’s central news agency reported. It was an unusually quick response from the rogue nation, which typically waits days to report international news, according to Reuters.
South Korea’s Constitutional Court removed Park from office in an unanimous ruling earlier Friday over a corruption scandal that plunged the country into political turmoil and worsened an already serious national divide. The decision capped a stunning fall for the country’s first female leader, who 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 Korean War, which started in 1950, saw a stop to fighting in 1953 – but the countries never signed a peace treaty, meaning they are still technically at war. North Korea’s push to expand its missile arsenal only has made the situation worse, analysts have said.
In addition, the U.S. deployment of a high-tech missile defense system in South Korea has riled up China, which claimed the Pentagon was trying to beef up its spying capabilities. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last month met with top South Korean officials and said, “he had inherited an already strong alliance, but committed to spending his tenure making it stronger than ever,” Cmdr. Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman, reported.
“As much as our position pertaining to national security should remain unwavering regardless of the domestic political situation, we will continue to maintain steady preparedness in close cooperation with our diplomatic and security agencies with regards to North Korea,” government officials in Seoul said.
Two people died during protests that followed the court ruling. Police and hospital officials said about 30 protesters and police officers were injured in the violent clashes near the court, which prompted Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, the country’s acting head of state, to plead for peace and urge Park’s angry supporters to move on.
The ruling allows possible criminal proceedings against the 65-year-old Park – prosecutors already have 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.
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 previously were made by prosecutors, but Park has refused to undergo any questioning, citing a law that gives a sitting leader immunity from prosecution.
Park won’t vacate the presidential Blue House on Friday as her aides are preparing for her return to her private home in southern Seoul, according to the Blue House. Park has not made a public statement on her removal.
Park’s lawyer, Seo Seok-gu, who previously had compared Park’s 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.”
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.