South Korea Removes President Park Geun-hye

SEOUL, South Korea — A South Korean court ousted the president on Friday, a first in the nation’s history, rattling the delicate balance of relationships across Asia at a particularly tense time.

Her removal capped months of turmoil, as hundreds of thousands of South Koreans took to the streets, week after week, to protest a sprawling corruption scandal that shook the top echelons of business and government.

Park Geun-hye, the nation’s first female president and the daughter of the Cold War military dictator Park Chung-hee, had been an icon of the conservative establishment that joined Washington in pressing for a hard line against North Korea’s nuclear provocations.

Now, her downfall is expected to shift South Korean politics to the opposition, whose leaders want more engagement with North Korea and are wary of a major confrontation in the region. They say they will re-examine the country’s joint strategy on North Korea with the United States and defuse tensions with China, which has sounded alarms about the growing American military footprint in Asia.

Ms. Park’s powers were suspended in December after a legislative impeachment vote, though she continued to live in the presidential Blue House, largely alone and hidden from public view, while awaiting the decision by the Constitutional Court. The house had been her childhood home: She first moved in at the age of 9 and left it nearly two decades later after her mother and father were assassinated in separate episodes.

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Judges at the impeachment ruling at the Constitutional Court on Friday. The downfall of Ms. Park is expected to shift South Korean politics to leaders who want more engagement with the North.CreditYonhap/European Pressphoto Agency

With the immunity conferred by her office now gone, Ms. Park, 65, faces prosecutors seeking to charge her with bribery, extortion and abuse of power in connection with allegations of conspiring with a confidante, her childhood friend Choi Soon-sil, to collect tens of millions of dollars in bribes from big businesses like Samsung.

By law, the country must elect a new president within 60 days. The acting president, Hwang Kyo-ahn, an ally of Ms. Park’s, will remain in office in the interim. The Trump administration is rushing a missile defense system to South Korea so that it can be in place before the election.

The last time a South Korean leader was removed from office under popular pressure was in 1960, when the police fired on crowds calling for President Syngman Rhee to step down. (Mr. Rhee, a dictator, fled into exile in Hawaii and died there.)

In a sign of how far South Korea’s young democracy has evolved, Ms. Park was removed without any violence, after large, peaceful protests in recent months demanding that she step down. In addition to the swell of popular anger, the legislature and the judiciary — two institutions that have been weaker than the presidency historically — were crucial to the outcome.

“This is a miracle, a new milestone in the strengthening and institutionalizing of democracy in South Korea,” said Kang Won-taek, a political scientist at Seoul National University.

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Celebrating after hearing the decision, in front of the Constitutional Court in Seoul, the capital, on Friday.CreditKim Hong-Ji/Reuters

When crowds took to the streets, they were not just seeking to remove a leader who had one year left in office. They were also rebelling against a political order that had held South Korea together for decades but is now fracturing under pressures both at home and abroad, analysts said.

Ms. Park’s father ruled South Korea from 1961 to 1979. He founded its economic growth model, which transformed the nation into an export powerhouse and allowed the emergence of family-controlled conglomerates known as chaebol that benefited from tax cuts, anti-labor policies and other benefits from the government.

Ms. Park was elected in 2012 with the support of older conservative South Koreans who revered her father for the country’s breakneck economic growth.

But the nexus of industry and political power gave rise to collusive ties, highlighted by the scandal that led to Ms. Park’s impeachment.

The scandal also swept up the de facto head of Samsung, Lee Jae-yong, who was indicted on charges of bribing Ms. Park and her confidante, Ms. Choi.

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Ms. Park, top center, with her father, Park Chung-hee, left, and her mother, Yuk Young-soo, right, in an undated family photograph. CreditYonhap, via Reuters

Samsung, the nation’s largest conglomerate, has been tainted by corruption before. But the company has been considered too important to the economy for any of its top leaders to spend time behind bars — until now. The jailing of Mr. Lee, who is facing trial, is another potent sign that the old order is not holding.

In the wake of the Park scandal, all political parties have vowed to curtail presidential power to pardon chaebol tycoons convicted of white-collar crimes. They also promised to stop chaebol chairmen from helping their children amass fortunes through dubious means, like forcing their companies to do exclusive business with the children’s businesses.

With the conservatives discredited — and no leading conservative candidate to succeed Ms. Park — the left could take power for the first time in a decade.

The dominant campaign issues will probably be North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and South Korea’s relations with the United States and China.

If the opposition takes power, it may try to revive its old “sunshine policy” of building ties with North Korea through aid and exchanges, an approach favored by China. That would complicate Washington’s efforts to isolate the North at a time other Asian nations like the Philippines are gravitating toward Beijing.

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Equipment for an American missile defense system arrived at an air base in South Korea on Monday. If the opposition party takes power, it says it will review the deployment of the system to determine if it is in South Korea’s best interest. CreditU.S. Forces Korea, via Associated Press

Moon Jae-in, the Democratic Party leader who is leading in opinion surveys, has said that a decade of applying sanctions on North Korea has failed to stop its nuclear weapons programs. He has said that sanctions are necessary, but that “their goal should be to draw North Korea back to the negotiating table.”

He believes that Ms. Park’s decision to allow the deployment of the American missile defense system — known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad — has dragged the country into the dangerous and growing rivalry between Washington and Beijing; China has called the system a threat to its own security and taken steps to punish South Korea economically for accepting it.

Conservative South Koreans see the deployment of the antimissile system not only as a guard against the North but also as a symbolic reaffirmation of the all-important alliance with the United States. Mr. Moon’s party demands that the deployment, which began this week, be suspended immediately. If it takes power, it says it will review the deployment of the antimissile system to determine if it is in South Korea’s best interest.

As South Korea has learned in painful fashion, it cannot always keep Washington and Beijing happy at the same time, as in the case of the country’s decision to deploy the American missile defense system.

Yet Ms. Park’s impeachment was also a pushback against “Cold War conservatives” like her father, who seized on Communist threats from North Korea to silence political opponents and hide their corruption, said Kim Dong-choon, a sociologist at Sungkonghoe University in Seoul.

Ms. Park’s father tortured and even executed dissidents, framing them with spying charges. Now, his daughter faces charges that her government blacklisted thousands of unfriendly artists and writers, branding them pro-North Korean, and denied them access to government support programs.

“Her removal means that the curtain is finally drawing on the authoritarian political and economic order that has dominated South Korea for decades,” said Ahn Byong-jin, rector of the Global Academy for Future Civilizations at Kyung Hee University in Seoul.

Analysts cautioned that political and economic change will come slowly.

As Mr. Moon put it recently: “We need a national cleanup. We need to liquidate the old system and build a new South Korea. Only then can we complete the revolution started by the people who rallied with candlelight.”

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South Korea will take lead in life expectancy by 2030, study predicts

(CNN)Average life expectancy will increase globally by 2030, both at birth and at the age of 65, according to a new study.

The two time points help define when lifespans in a population are extending due to improvements in maternal and child health as well as improved adult health.
The average for women at birth will exceed 85 years in many countries, but South Korea is projected to lead the way with a life expectancy of 90.8 years.
In 2015, global average life expectancy at birth was 71.4 years, according to the World Health Organization.
Unhealthier lifestyles among men, including higher rates of smoking and alcohol consumption, have long meant a greater life expectancy for women, say the researchers.
Life expectancy among men born in South Korea in 2030 is therefore predicted to be 84.1 years, according to the study, published Tuesday in the Lancet.
But the study authors believe this gap between the sexes is now shrinking as lifestyles become more similar.
“The biggest result is that … at least one group is going to break the 90-year barrier,” said Majid Ezzati, professor of global environmental health at Imperial College London, referring to the predictions among South Korean women. Ezzati led the study and highlighted that many experts had believed the average would never exceed 90.
“This shows that even if there is a limit to longevity, we are nowhere near it,” he said. “We should be planning for more life.”
The analysis included data on mortality and longevity patterns from 35 industrialized nations, including both high-income countries and emerging economies.
In Europe, French women and Swiss women are predicted to have the highest life expectancy, with averages of 88.6 and 84 years respectively.
Among predictions for high-income countries, the lowest life expectancy at birth is likely to be in the US, with an average of 83.3 years for women and 79.5 years for men — similar to Mexico and Croatia.
“They still have relatively high rates of young and middle-age mortality,” Ezzati told CNN, referring to the countries with lower life expectancies. “People have a relatively high risk of dying in their 40s or 50s.”
There are many reasons for deaths in this age range, Ezzati said, including greater obesity rates and their associated health risks as well as homicides and road accidents. Lack of universal health care in countries like the US is also thought to play a role, the study says.
The lowest life expectancy projections overall were for women in Macedonia and men in Serbia, according to the study.
“A lot of this is driven by inequality, (which) brings down the national average,” Ezzati said.
The research team calculated life expectancy using data on the age at which people die across a population. High childhood mortality rates and greater rates of death among young people, for example due to injuries and violence, will bring an average down.
In contrast, greater equality, more comprehensive health care and healthy diets and lifestyles embedded in a culture can bring this up — as with South Korea.
“Places like South Korea and some emerging economies, Switzerland and Canada do very well,” Ezzati said. “South Korea has had remarkable success.”
Ezzati believes the secret to South Korea’s success has been the country’s investment in childhood nutrition, education and technology as well as low blood pressure, low levels of smoking and good access to health care.
“An equitable way of taking up this knowledge has been the driver,” he said.
Meanwhile, countries like Japan, long revered for their longevity, are expected to see just small increases in life expectancy. “The Japanese story has started to come to an end,” Ezzati said, adding that while the Japanese culture is known for healthy diets and active lifestyles, “that’s beginning to change.”
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“They still have low obesity and low blood pressure … and are still doing well, but some things are catching up,” he said, highlighting Western influences such as diet.
“South Korea has caught up with Japan as its standard of living has increased,” said Sarah Harper, professor of gerontology at the University of Oxford. “But in many parts of Asia, young people are eating Western diets. … The (previously) healthy diet may not be sustained as young people reach older ages.”
The findings are hoped to help countries learn healthy changes by example and, more important, to help policymakers prepare for their populations’ changing demographics.
“What South Korea has done goes completely against some Western countries … against the prosperity agenda,” Ezzati said, adding that we need to think about “social care, planning and pensions in an aging population.”
Harper, said the new projections are, “very much in line with what other projections are showing.” She agreed that countries in Asia are leading the way but are also seeing change among their younger population.
She further agreed that inequality is likely to be an underlying factor for why some high-income countries are seeing lower life expectancy predictions. “The US spends more of its budget on health care than any other country in the world. Some say this is due to the huge amount of inequality,” she said. “The Scandinavian countries do well. … They’re counted as more equal and tend to have higher life expectancy outcomes.”

Samsung chief Lee arrested as South Korean corruption probe deepens

Samsung Group chief Jay Y. Lee was arrested early on Friday over his alleged role in a corruption scandal rocking the highest levels of power in South Korea, dealing a fresh blow to the world’s biggest maker of smartphones and memory chips.

The 48-year-old Lee, scion of the country’s richest family, was taken into custody at the Seoul Detention Centre after waiting there overnight for the decision. He was being held in a single cell with a TV and desk, a jail official said.

Lee is a suspect in the influence-peddling scandal that led parliament to impeach President Park Geun-hye in December, a decision that if upheld by the Constitutional Court would make her the country’s first democratically elected leader forced from office.

Shares in flagship Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS) fell 1.4 percent, while shares in Samsung C&T Corp (028260.KS), the de facto holding company of Samsung Group, were down 2.8 percent compared with the wider market’s .KS11 drop of 0.2 percent.

Prosecutors have up to 10 days to indict Lee, Samsung’s third-generation leader, although they can seek an extension. After indictment, a court would be required to make a ruling within three months.

No decision had been made on whether Lee’s arrest would be contested or whether bail would be sought, a spokeswoman for Samsung Group [SARG.UL] said.

Samsung and Lee have denied wrongdoing in the case.

“We will do our best to ensure that the truth is revealed in future court proceedings,” the Samsung Group said in a brief statement after Lee’s arrest.

The same court had rejected a request last month to arrest Lee, but prosecutors on Tuesday brought additional accusations against Lee, seeking his arrest on bribery and other charges.

“We acknowledge the cause and necessity of the arrest,” a judge said in his ruling.

The judge rejected the prosecution’s request to arrest Samsung Electronics president Park Sang-jin.

SENSITIVE TIME

While Lee’s detention is not expected to hamper day-to-day operation of Samsung firms, which are run by professional managers, experts said it could hinder strategic decision-making at South Korea’s biggest conglomerate, or chaebol.

Samsung has been in the midst of an ongoing restructuring to clear a succession path for Lee to assume control after his father was incapacitated by a heart attack in 2014.

Decisions that could be complicated by Lee’s arrest include deliberations over whether to reorganize the group under a holding company structure, as well as its plan to abandon its future strategy office, a central decision-making body that came in for criticism during the scandal.

Staff moves have also been in limbo. Samsung, which employs more than 250,000 people, has yet to announce annual personnel promotions and changes, which it typically does in December.

One employee at Samsung Electronics’ chip division said colleagues were unsettled that prosecutors had singled-out Samsung.

“The mood is that people are worried,” said the employee.

However, another Samsung Electronics employee described the situation as business as usual.

“It wouldn’t make sense for a company of that size to not function properly just because the owner is away.”

Both declined to be identified, given the sensitivity of the matter.

Lee’s incarceration comes as Samsung Electronics tries to get past the disastrous rollout last year of its Galaxy Note 7 smartphones, which were prone to fires. It is under pressure for the upcoming launch of its next flagship phone, the Galaxy S8, to be a success.

Some worried about the impact on Samsung, a flag-bearer for South Korea’s technological and manufacturing prowess.

“We express concern and regret that South Korea’s leading company, which is at the forefront of global competition, faces a management vacuum,” the Korea Chamber of Commerce & Industry said.

ZEROING-IN

Lee’s arrest gives a boost to prosecutors who have zeroed-in on Samsung Group to build their case against President Park and her close friend Choi Soon-sil, who is in detention and faces charges of abuse of power and attempted fraud.

Both Park and Choi have denied wrongdoing.

Prosecutors have focused on Samsung’s relationship with Park, 65, accusing the group of paying bribes totaling 43 billion won ($37.74 million) to organizations linked to Choi to secure government backing for the 2015 merger of two Samsung units.

If parliament’s impeachment is upheld, an election would be held in two months. In the meantime, Park remains in office but stripped of her powers.

Her would-be successors praised the decision to arrest Lee.

“We hope it marks a beginning to end our society’s evil practice of cozy ties between government and corporations and move toward a fair country,” said Kim Kyoung-soo, a spokesman for Moon Jae-in, a member of the liberal opposition Democratic Party who is leading opinion polls in the presidential race.

South Korea says North Korea test fires missile into sea

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s military said Sunday that North Korea fired a projectile into its eastern sea, a likely effort to advance its weapons program while also challenging the young Trump administration in Washington.

The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the projectile was fired from an area in the country’s western region around Banghyon, North Pyongan Province, which is where South Korean officials have said the country test launched its powerful midrange missile Musudan on Oct. 15 and 20.

An official from Seoul’s Defense Ministry says it isn’t clear whether the projectile was a ballistic missile. The official didn’t want to be named, citing office rules.

The North conducted two nuclear tests and a slew of rocket launches last year in continued efforts to expand its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Kim Dong-yeop, an analyst at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul, said that the projectile could be a Musudan or a similar rocket designed to test engines for an intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit the US mainland.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in his annual New Year’s address that the North’s preparations for launching an intercontinental ballistic missile have “reached the final stage.”

Pet rats in Illinois, Wisconsin linked to Seoul virus outbreak, CDC says

(CNN)The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Friday that pet rats are the source of an outbreak of Seoul virus infections in Illinois and Wisconsin. The virus has been confirmed in eight patients in an ongoing investigation.

The recent cases are “the first human cases we’ve seen in the United States associated with pet rats,” said Dr. Jennifer McQuiston, a veterinarian and deputy division director for CDC’s division of high consequent pathogens and pathology. Several previous outbreaks reported in the US occurred in wild rats.
“There was an outbreak reported in Europe previously associated with pet rats, so it’s not the first time this has been associated with pets worldwide,” McQuiston said.

Investigation in Wisconsin leads to Illinois

The initial patient in the current outbreak, a resident of Wisconsin, visited a hospital with flu-like symptoms, according to Stephanie Smiley, director of the bureau of communicable disease with Wisconsin Department of Health Services. The patient was a home-based rodent breeder.
Because of the patient’s exposure to rodents, the doctor had a “hunch” to test for hantavirus, explained Smiley.
Following a positive test result for hantavirus in late December, Wisconsin health officials sent a sample from the patient to the CDC along with a separate sample from a second patient — a family member who also worked with rodents.
On January 11, the CDC confirmed infections with Seoul virus, a rodent-borne hantavirus, in both patients.
Though related, Seoul virus is considered different from hantavirus and it is not typically seen in the US, said McQuiston.
“This is typically associated with a milder illness than we think about with the classic hantavirus we talk about in the US, but it can be, in rare cases, associated with some more severe symptoms, such as renal disease,” said McQuiston.
According to Smiley, symptoms of Seoul virus can include fever, chills, nausea, pink eye-type eye infection and abdominal pain. Though it rarely happens, a simple infection can progress to hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, which begins with fever, severe aches and fatigue, and may turn fatal.
Seoul virus symptoms often develop within one to two weeks after contact, but can take as long as eight weeks to appear, said Smiley.
Both of the Wisconsin patients have since recovered, but the discovery of infection led to a follow-up investigation at several rat suppliers, which revealed an additional six cases of Seoul virus among workers at two Illinois breeding facilities, according to Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health. She added these cases were confirmed by the CDC on January 18.
“Six people tested positive for Seoul virus, but only one experienced illness,” said Arnold, explaining that five people showed no symptoms of the virus, which cannot be transmitted among people, regardless of whether symptoms are present or not. The one patient who became sick has since recovered.
Public health officials said that more ratteries and more infected people may be identified as the investigation proceeds.

A ‘complicated’ investigation

Usually people become infected when they come in contact with infectious fluids, such as blood, saliva and urine, from infected rats, or are bitten by them. Infected rats typically do not appear sick.
Worldwide, the Seoul virus is carried by wild Norway rats.

Worldwide, the Seoul virus is carried by wild Norway rats, which first arrived on this continent during the late 1700s and then began to dominate urban centers throughout the country. Most infections among people have been reported in Asia.
“Illinois Department of Public Health is currently working with local health departments and the ratteries to identify clients and people who may have been exposed to the rats, but the total numbers are unknown,” said Arnold. The state’s health department is working with both the CDC and the Wisconsin Department of Public Health to try to identify the origin of the rats.
Meanwhile, the CDC is working with local and state health authorities in both states to continue testing rats and humans for Seoul virus infections.
McQuiston explained that the CDC has been tracing back to where rats may have come from, and tracing out to where rats may have gone from the facilities where Seoul virus infections occurred.
“It’s been fairly complicated,” said McQuiston, adding that the CDC believes so far that the virus has not spread beyond or outside “the network that we’re investigating right now.”
Anyone who recently purchased a rat in the affected areas and experiences Seoul virus symptoms should contact their healthcare provider immediately.
People in Illinois and Wisconsin who have purchased or come in contact with rats from the affected breeders should contact their local or state health departments.
“Our general recommendation is that anybody who has a pet rodent or pet rat should be cognizant of good pet care behavior,” said McQuiston.

Caring for a pet rat

To prevent diseases or infections carried by rats, people should wash their hands with soap and running water after touching or feeding rodents or cleaning their habitats. Children need to be assisted with their handwashing.
Whenever possible, pet owners should clean and disinfect rodent cages and supplies outside the home — never perform this clean-up in the kitchen or bathroom. Wear gloves, if possible, to avoid coming into contact with droppings or urine.
Because pet rodents can shed germs and contaminate areas where they roam, make sure their cages are properly secured and safe.
Avoid bites and scratches from any rodent. Even if an animal seems friendly, be cautious. Routinely visit your veterinarian to keep a pet rodent healthy and disease-free.
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If bitten or scratched, wash the wound with warm soapy water immediately. Even healthy pets can carry germs.
See a doctor if the pet appears sick, if the wound is serious, if the wound turns red, painful, warm or swollen, if your last tetanus shot was more than five years ago or if you develop sudden fever or flu-like illness within two weeks after being bitten.
“We have seen occasional rare cases of Seoul virus infections in the US but those have not been linked to pet rodents. It’s thought that they were more linked to wild rat exposure,” said McQuiston. “We do know Seoul virus can circulate in wild rat populations — really around the world. We don’t really know how often or common it is, it’s not a very well studied virus in that respect.”

South Korea orders record cull of poultry to contain bird flu

South Korea has ordered its biggest-ever cull of chickens and other poultry to fight a bird flu outbreak that is spreading at an unprecedented rate, the Agriculture Ministry said on Friday.

The ministry ordered the cull of 4 million more birds, which would bring the total number killed since mid-November to 16 million, almost one-fifth of its poultry population.

South Korea raised its bird flu alert status to the highest level for the first time on Thursday because of the rapid spread of the H5N6 virus. The government has said it has found 54 cases of the virus in poultry since the first outbreak was reported on Nov. 18.

“It appears to be more highly pathogenic and it is spreading more quickly than the H5N8 virus that occurred in 2014,” Agriculture Minister Kim Jae-soo told reporters. About 14 million birds were culled until that outbreak was finally brought under control in November 2015.

“We have appointed a central emergency measures headquarters to oversee the situation and reinforce our pan-governmental response measures,” Kim added. He was flanked by officials who like him were wearing the yellow windbreakers donned during emergencies.

Although cases of human infections from the H5N6 virus have been previously reported elsewhere, including China, no cases of human infections have ever been detected in South Korea.

Outbreaks of avian influenza have been reported recently in Japan and several European nations, including France, which widened “high risk” restrictions to the entire country last week.

In South Korea, most of the birds culled were egg-laying hens, sending local egg prices soaring.

The average retail price for 30 eggs has risen 15 percent to 6,279 won ($5.31) as of Thursday since the outbreak began, according to the state-run Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corp, and is expected to rise further.

Shares of animal vaccine makers rose in early trade on Friday because of the outbreak.

The agriculture ministry said it will consider a temporary shutdown of slaughterhouses and animal feed factories if needed to contain the spread of the virus.

The ministry had already stepped up quarantine measures, including issuing a temporary nationwide ban on the transport of poultry.

South Korea Enters Period of Uncertainty With President’s Impeachment

SEOUL, South Korea — For her nearly four years in office, President Park Geun-hye of South Korea cooperated closely with the United States, particularly when it came to dealing with her volatile neighbor, North Korea.

A vote on Friday to impeach her now throws both her country and American policy in the region into deep uncertainty, as the North’s nuclear program advances and the incoming administration of Donald J. Trumpdeliberates over whether to adjust Washington’s stance on how to best contain North Korean aggression.

Ms. Park, a conservative, had adopted a tough approach toward the North, focusing on stronger sanctions. Her administration had also agreed to deploy an American advanced missile defense system that infuriated the Chinese.

Yet her deep unpopularity — the result of a scandal over influence-peddling that led members of her own party to want to oust her — increases the odds that the next election will be won by an advocate of friendlier relations with China.

Ms. Park’s powers are suspended while the Constitutional Court considers whether to remove her permanently. If it votes to do so, South Korea will hold an election for a new president in 60 days. Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn will serve as acting president.

Domestically, her undoing provides the latest example of how corruption remains entrenched at the top echelons of political and corporate life in South Korea, at a moment when the economy is slowing.

Parliament’s impeachment motion accused Ms. Park, the nation’s first female leader, of “extensive and serious violations of the Constitution and the law.” It followed weeks of damaging disclosures that all but paralyzed the government and produced the largest street protests in the nation’s history.

Ms. Park suggested that she intended to fight her impeachment, telling cabinet members hours later that she would “calmly” prepare for the court deliberations and giving no hint that she would resign.

“I am gravely accepting the voices of the people and the National Assembly, and I sincerely hope that the confusion will come to a satisfactory end,” she said in remarks broadcast on national television.

Ms. Park has been accused of allowing a shadowy confidante, the daughter of a religious sect leader, to exercise remarkable influence on matters ranging from choosing top government officials to her wardrobe, and of helping her extort tens of millions of dollars from South Korean companies.

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Ms. Park addressing the nation over the scandal in November. She has been accused of allowing a shadowy confidante, Choi Soon-sil, to exercise remarkable influence on matters including choosing government officials, and of helping Ms. Choi extort tens of millions of dollars from South Korean companies. CreditPool photo by Ed Jones

Thousands of people who had gathered outside the Parliament building in the frigid cold on Friday cheered when the news was announced.

“My heart is beating so fast,” said Han Joo-young, 47, who had come from Paju, north of the capital. “I am so touched that people who are usually powerless can have so much power when they come together.”

A total of 234 lawmakers voted for impeachment, well over the required two-thirds threshold in the 300-seat National Assembly, the lone house of Parliament in South Korea. The vote was by secret ballot, but the results indicated that nearly half of the 128 lawmakers in Ms. Park’s party, Saenuri, had joined the opposition in moving to oust her.

Ms. Park, 64, came to power in early 2013, backed mostly by older Koreans who had hoped she would be a contemporary version of her father, the military dictator Park Chung-hee, often viewed as the modernizer of South Korea.

Instead, she became the least popular leader since the country began democratizing in the late 1980s, according to recent polls. Critics said she was authoritarian and used state power to muzzle critics while shielded by a coterie of advisers.

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Business leaders, including Jay Y. Lee, the vice chairman of Samsung, and Chung Mong-koo, the Hyundai chairman, were questioned at a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday about millions of dollars they gave to two foundations controlled by Ms. Choi. CreditPool photo by Jeon Heon-Kyun

The last time South Koreans took to the streets to kick out an unpopular leader, in 1960, they had to fight bloody battles with police officers armed with rifles.

That uprising forced Syngman Rhee, the country’s founding and authoritarian president, to resign and flee into exile in Hawaii. Vice President Lee Ki-poong, a Rhee confidant who was at the center of a corruption scandal, and his family ended their lives in a group suicide as mobs approached their home in Seoul.

In subsequent decades, when South Koreans demanded more democracy, their military dictators, including Ms. Park’s father, brutally suppressed them through martial law, torturing and even executing their leaders.

In 1987, violence erupted again as people took to the streets to demand free presidential elections, forcing the military government to back down.

This time, in a sign of how far South Korea’s democracy has matured, peaceful crowds achieved their goal without a single arrest. Increasingly large numbers of protesters gathered in the capital, including 1.7 million people on Saturday — the largest protest in South Korean history.

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Ms. Choi, center, at a prosecutor’s office in Seoul in October. She has been indicted on charges of leveraging her influence with Ms. Park to extort millions of dollars from businesses. CreditEd Jones/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ms. Park became the first South Korean president to lose an impeachment vote since 2004, when the National Assembly moved to impeach Roh Moo-hyun for violating election laws. Two months later, the Constitutional Court ruled that Mr. Roh’s offense was too minor to justify impeachment and restored him to office. But Ms. Park faces much more serious accusations.

Still, it is difficult to predict when and how the Constitutional Court will rule on Ms. Park’s fate.

Removing her would require the votes of at least six of the nine Constitutional Court judges. Among the current judges, six were appointed by Ms. Park or her conservative predecessor, or are otherwise seen as being close to her party.

The process, which may include hearings, will buy time for Ms. Park’s embattled party to recover from the scandal and prepare for the next presidential election if the court decides to formally unseat her.

Ms. Park joins the ranks of South Korean leaders who have been disgraced near the end of their terms, with their relatives or aides implicated in corruption scandals. An exception was Ms. Park’s father, who was assassinated in 1979 at the height of his dictatorial power and before anyone dared to bring corruption charges against him.

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Portraits of Ms. Park’s parents, former President Park Chung-hee and his wife, Yuk Young-soo, at a temple in Seoul. Ms. Park rose to power on strong support from those who revered her father. CreditWoohae Cho/Getty Images

His and subsequent governments had favored a handful of family-owned conglomerates with tax benefits, lucrative business licenses and buy-Korean and anti-labor policies. The businesses were accused of returning the favors with bribes and suspicious donations.

Through the years, top corporations have been rocked by recurring corruption scandals, including the one that implicated Ms. Park and her confidante, Choi Soon-sil.

In 1988, business tycoons were hauled into a parliamentary hearing to be questioned about millions of dollars they gave to a foundation controlled by the military dictator Chun Doo-hwan.

The scene was repeated this week, when nine business leaders, including Jay Y. Lee, the vice chairman of Samsung, and Chung Mong-koo, the Hyundai chairman, appeared at another parliamentary hearing to be questioned about millions of dollars they gave to two foundations controlled by Ms. Choi.

Ms. Choi has been indicted on charges of leveraging her influence with Ms. Park to extort the money from the businesses. Prosecutors have also identified Ms. Park as a criminal suspect, a first for a president, though she cannot be indicted while in office.

The businessmen acknowledged giving the money, confirming that the requests had come directly from Ms. Park or her aides.

Huh Chang-soo, the chairman of GS Group and the head of the Federation of Korean Industries, the pro-business lobby group that coordinated the donations, put the situation this way: “It is difficult for businesses to say no to a request from the government. That’s the reality in South Korea.”

Some analysts saw the vote and the huge protests as a repudiation of the entire system.

“This impeachment is not only an impeachment against Park Geun-hye,” said Kim Dong-choon, a professor of sociology at Sungkonghoe University in Seoul, “but a judgment against the conservative party and the post-Cold War order that has maintained power in South Korea for so many years.”

North Korea fires two missiles, South Korea says

(CNN)North Korea fired two missiles Wednesday morning from its eastern coast, according to South Korean and U.S. officials.

Both are believed to be Musudan intermediate-range missiles, fired from the North Korean port city of Wonsan, said Commander Dave Benham, spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Command.
“According to the U.N. Security Council resolution, any launches that involve ballistic missile technology are a violation of the treaty and we think this is clearly a provocation towards us,” South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon Hee said at a regularly-scheduled press briefing.
The first missile flew 93 miles (150 km), and is considered a failed launch, according to a South Korean military official.
The second missile traveled 249 miles (400 km) and the data is still being analyzed by the South Korean military, the official told CNN.
North Korea has made at least four previous attempts this year to test this type of missile.
Both missiles were tracked over the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, “where initial indications are they fell,” Benham said. Benham said the missile launches did not pose a threat to North America.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that his country could “never forgive” the test, which he stressed was in violation of U.N. resolutions.
“We can never forgive this and lodged a firm protest,” he told reporters from Kumamoto, southern Japan.
“We would like to continue taking a close coordination with the U.S. and South Korea and working on North Korea (at) the United Nations, so that North Korea would not conduct such an action again.”
Japan’s defense minister Gen Nakatani told reporters that the first missile launch did not affect the country’s security, but he also called for immediate meetings to take all possible measures to protect Japan. He made the comments before the second missile launch.
The first missile launch occurred at 5:58 a.m. local time and the South Korean military presumed that one had been a failure, according to a spokesperson from the country’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
About two hours later, North Korea fired the second missile at 8:05 a.m. local time, according to the spokesperson. He said further analysis is being conducted.
The U.S. State Department condemned the recent missile tests in a statement: “We are aware of reports that the DPRK fired two ballistic missiles. We are monitoring and continuing to assess the situation in close coordination with our regional allies and partners.”
The United States advised North Korea to stop its ballistic missile tests and said it only strengthened the international community’s resolve to press forward with U.N. sanctions. The United States said it would also defend its allies, South Korea and Japan, and called its commitment to them “ironclad.”
“We remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies from any attack or provocation,” according to U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby.

North Korea tests Musudan again

This year, North Korea has taken much interest in the Musudan, an intermediate-range missile with a strike range of 3,000 to 5,500 kilometers (1,864 to 3,417 miles).
“(Kim Jong Un) is interested in being the leader of NK who has been able to create a deliverable nuclear weapon and clearly they’re counting on this intermediate range Musudan missile to do that,” Christopher Hill, the former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, told CNN.
“The key element of it is that it’s mobile. The fixed launch points, we know precisely where they are, but if this thing pops out a forest we don’t.”
North Korea attempted its fourth Musudan test in May, but it exploded after flying for about two to three seconds, according to U.S. defense officials.
In late April, a twin missile test of Musudan missiles also failed. In mid-April, on the anniversary of North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung’s birthday, another reported Musudan missile launch ended in failure. All launches were from the North Korean port city of Wonsan.
While the missiles did not reach their full range, at least the second test might count as a partial success, John Schilling, an aerospace engineer who regularly contributes to 38 North, a North Korean monitoring project, told CNN.
“The missile didn’t reach nearly its full range, but it didn’t blow up on the pad and it flew far enough that patient engineers might have learned something from it.
“But as they didn’t stop to figure out what went wrong after today’s first test, it is pretty clear that they aren’t working patiently and trying to learn from their mistakes.”
The Musudan missile isn’t really new, according to Schilling.
“It showed up in North Korea over a decade ago, and it seems to be based on a 1960s-era Soviet design with some local modifications.” The Musudan with its intermediate-range capabilities could deliver a nuclear warhead as far as the U.S. base in Guam, he wrote in an opinion piece for CNN. 
The last several months have been particularly contentious on the Korean peninsula, after North Korea claimed to have tested its first hydrogen bomb, an assertion that U.S. officials dispute, and fired a satellite into orbit.

Why so many missile tests?

North Korea could be testing missiles with such intensity this year due to more financial challenges, said Stephan Haggard, director of the Korea-Pacific program at the University of California San Diego.
Pyongyang has been hit with new U.N. sanctions, a crackdown to block North Korea from the international financial system and the closure of the joint North-South Korea Kaesong complex this year.
“North Korea is on the verge of feeling quite substantial economic distress,” Haggard said. “Part of the effort here is to get attention focused back on North Korea, so that perhaps they think they can get some relief from the sanctions instituted recently.”
North Korea wants to develop its missiles, because it’s a way of delivering nuclear weapons, he said.
“You can develop a nuclear device, but unless you can deliver it, it has no strategic value,” he said. Without an air force or a technically capable submarine, the missiles are the only route.
Haggard says nuclear weapons give North Korea’s Kim Jung Un leverage to bargain with the rest of the world.
“The farther along they are, the higher bribe price the external community has to pay for them to give it up,” he said.
Kim has been in a rush to sharpen North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities, more so than his father.
SK Defense Minister: Kim Jong-Un is young and rash

SK Defense Minister: Kim Jong-Un is young and rash 02:45
In an interview with CNN’s Paula Hancocks earlier this month, South Korean Defense Minister Han Minkoo pointed out that during the 18 years of Kim Jung Il’s reign in North Korea, the country had conducted 18 missile tests.
In just four years of reign under his son, the younger Kim has now overseen 27 missile launches with the two most recent tests on Wednesday.

US deploys more Patriot missiles in South Korea

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The United States temporarily deployed an additional Patriot missile battery in South Korea in response to North Korea’s nuclear test and a long-range rocket launch, ahead of talks next week to set up an even more sophisticated US missile defense in a move that has worried China and Russia.

The new tough stance follows South Korea’s decision to shut down an inter-Korean factory park that had been the rival Koreas’ last major symbol of cooperation, but that Seoul said had been used by North Korea to fund its nuclear and missile programs. North Korea responded by deporting South Korean citizens, seizing South Korean assets and vowing to militarize the park.
South Korea on Friday cut off power and water supplies to the industrial park and announced that its planned talks with the United States on deploying the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, one of the most advanced missile defense systems in the world, could start next week. Officials say they have yet to set a specific starting date for the talks.

In the meantime, the US military command in South Korea said Saturday that an air defense battery unit from Ft. Bliss, Texas, has been conducting ballistic missile training using the Patriot system at Osan Air Base near Seoul.

Lt. Gen. Thomas Vandal, commander of the US Eighth Army, said “exercises like this ensure we are always ready to defend against an attack from North Korea.”

“North Korea’s continued development of ballistic missiles against the expressed will of the international community requires the alliance to maintain effective and ready ballistic missile defenses,” he said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for US Forces Korea couldn’t confirm how long the Patriot missile battery from Texas would be deployed in South Korea. The US military already has an operating Patriot missile defense system in South Korea to counter the threat of North Korea’s shorter-range arsenal and medium-range missiles.

South Korean media have long speculated that the two countries are working on a THAAD deployment in South Korea, but it took the North’s rocket launch last Sunday, which outsiders see as a test of banned ballistic missile technology, for the allies to formally announce they will begin the missile defense talks.

Beijing and Moscow are sensitive to the possibility of THAAD in South Korea; critics say the system could help US radar spot missiles in other countries.

China’s state media quickly made the country’s displeasure known, while Russia also expressed worries about the deployment. North Korea has previously warned of a nuclear war in the region and threatened to bolster its armed forces if the THAAD deployment occurs.

In Munich, US Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Chinese and South Korean counterparts to discuss the response to North Korea’s actions, including the missile system. In talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, Kerry expressed support for Seoul’s decision to shut down the factory park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong and discussed a broad range of potential sanctions against the North, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said.

Seoul and Washington want to deploy the system at an early date and the upcoming talks will discuss where and exactly when the deployment can be made, a South Korean defense official said, requesting anonymity because of department rules.
The official said the THAAD deployment is designed to protect South Korea from North Korean threats and isn’t targeting China or anyone else.

The current standoff flared after North Korea carried out a nuclear test last month, its fourth, followed by the long-range rocket launch on Sunday. Pyongyang said the launch, which put an Earth observation satellite into orbit, is part of a peaceful space program.

Seoul cuts off power supplies to factory park in North Korea

PAJU, South Korea (AP) — South Korea has cut off power and water supplies to a factory park in North Korea, officials said Friday, a day after the North deported all South Korean workers there and ordered a military takeover of the complex that had been the last major symbol of cooperation between the rivals.

It is the latest in an escalating standoff over North Korea’s recent rocket launch that Seoul, Washington and their allies view as a banned test of missile technology. The North says its actions on the Kaesong complex were a response to Seoul’s earlier decision to suspend operations as punishment for the launch.

On Thursday night, the 280 South Korean workers who had been at the park crossed the border into South Korea, several hours after a deadline set by the North passed. Their departure quashed concerns that some might be held hostage, and lowered the chances that the standoff might lead to violence or miscalculations.

 

But they weren’t allowed to bring back any finished products and equipment at their factories because the North announced it will freeze all South Korean assets there.

The North also said it was closing an inter-Korean highway linking to Kaesong and shutting down two cross-border communication hotlines.

 

“I was told not to bring anything but personal goods, so I’ve got nothing but my clothes to take back,” a manager at a South Korean apparel company at the complex, who declined to give his name, told The Associated Press by phone before he crossed to the South.

Chang Beom Kang, who has been running an apparel company in Kaesong since 2009, said from South Korea that his company has about 920 North Korean workers — who didn’t show up Thursday — and seven South Korean managers at Kaesong.

 

He said one of his workers, who entered Kaesong earlier Thursday, was about to cross the border to return to South Korea with thousands of women’s clothes produced at the factory. But at the last minute the employee had to drive back to the factory to unload the clothes because of North Korea’s announcement that it would freeze all South Korean assets there.

 

“I’m devastated now,” Kang said by phone, saying he’s worried about losing credibility with clients because of the crisis.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry said in a statement Friday that it had stopped power transmissions to the factory park. Ministry officials said the suspension subsequently led to a halt of water supplies to Kaesong.

 

The current standoff flared after North Korea carried out a nuclear test last month, followed by the long-range rocket launch on Sunday that came after Seoul had warned of serious consequences.

In one of its harshest possible punishment options, South Korea on Thursday began work to suspend operations at the factory park. Seoul said its decision on Kaesong was an effort to stop North Korea from using hard currency earned from the park to pay for its nuclear and missile programs.

 

The North’s reaction was swift.

 

The country’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement later Thursday that the South’s shutdown of Kaesong was a “dangerous declaration of war” and a “declaration of an end to the last lifeline of the North-South relations.”

Such over-the-top rhetoric is typical of the North’s propaganda, but the country appeared to be backing up its language with its strong response.

 

The statement included crude insults against South Korean President Park Geun-hye, saying she masterminded the shutdown and calling her a “confrontational wicked woman” who lives upon “the groin of her American boss.” Such sexist language is also typical of North Korean propaganda.

 

North Korea has previously cut off cross-border communication channels in times of tension with South Korea, but they were later restored after animosities eased.

North Korea, in a fit of anger over U.S.-South Korean military drills, pulled its workers from Kaesong for about five months in 2013. But, generally, the complex has long been seen as above the constant squabbling and occasional bloodshed between the rival Koreas, one of the last few bright spots in a relationship more often marked by threats of war.

Park, the South Korean president, has now done something her conservative predecessor resisted, even after two attacks blamed on North Korea killed 50 South Koreans in 2010. She has shown a willingness to take quick action when provoked by the North. When North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test last month, for instance, she resumed anti-Pyongyang propaganda from loudspeakers along the border, despite what Seoul says was an exchange of cross-border artillery fire the last time she used the speakers.

A group of people braved the rain for hours on the southern side of a cross-border bridge on Thursday anxiously waiting for their family members and co-workers to return to South Korea.

 

“I don’t think I want my husband to ever work in Kaesong again,” commented a woman who declined to give her name but said her husband was a manager at Taesung, a maker of cosmetics products.

“Whenever the North does something provocative, we worry about our loved ones,” she said.

 

The factory park, which started producing goods in 2004, has provided 616 billion won ($560 million) in cash to North Korea, South Korean Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo said.

 

Combining South Korean initiative, capital and technology with the North’s cheap labor, the industrial park has been seen as a test case for reunification between the Koreas. Last year, 124 South Korean companies hired 54,000 North Korean workers to produce socks, wristwatches and other goods worth about $500 million.