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Park facing possibility of going from palace to prison

(China Daily) Updated: 2017-03-11 06:59

But house in leafy Seoul district is next stop for the ousted president

SEOUL - When impeached president Park Geun-hye leaves the presidential palace, she will go back to her house in Seoul's luxury Gangnam district surrounded by a high wall and bamboo. She may have to move again, next time to a cramped jail cell.

The Republic of Korea's Constitutional Court on Friday upheld a parliamentary decision to impeach Park, 65, over a corruption scandal, ousting her from office and capping months of political uncertainty and protests in Asia's fourth-largest economy.

As the country expects a presidential election in coming 60 days, one of the most urgent tasks facing the country's next leader now seems to be realizing national reconciliation and unity.

Lee Jae-myung from the Minjoo Party, mayor of Seongnam, said: "Today is a great day for people. Impeachment is the start to build a fair country free from corruption, foul play and privilege. Genuine unity will only be made possible when completely clearing away the legacy of old days."

Shielded from prosecution while in office, Park could face criminal charges, the possibility of detention pending trial, and finally a jail sentence.

One former president spent almost two years in detention in the 1990s awaiting his trial.

It is not the first time Park has had to leave the Blue House, a presidential palace compound of traditional-style buildings at the foot of a rocky hill in central Seoul.

In 1979, after a nine-day funeral following the assassination of her father, president Park Chung-hee, the young Park left the Blue House with her siblings for a family home. She had been the de-facto first lady after her mother was shot and killed in an earlier assassination attempt on her father.

Park's private home is a detached, two-story house on a quiet back street in Seoul's affluent Gangnam district, where shops and apartment buildings have French names, and luxury car showrooms line avenues.

The house is surrounded by a high redbrick wall topped with barbed wire and CCTV cameras. A row of trees obscures most of it from the road. A small police booth guards the main entrance, besides which is an empty bracket for a flagpole.

Park bought the house in 1990 and it was her official address until 1998, when her focus became the city of Daegu, her father's political base, as she pursued a career in politics.

'Quiet life'

Four years later, she moved back to the house. Residents said they saw her occasionally in the leafy neighborhood until 2012, when she won a closely fought election to become president.

"She kept her life very quiet. She would take a private car to commute," said resident Lee Bum-yong, who said he had seen Park several times before she became president.

Parliament voted overwhelmingly on Dec 9 to impeach Park over an influence-peddling scandal. She is accused of colluding with a friend, Choi Soon-sil, and a former presidential aide, both of whom have been indicted by prosecutors, to pressure big businesses to donate to two foundations set up to back her policy initiatives. Park and Choi deny any wrongdoing.

If Park now faces investigation and trial she will likely have to go to the Seoul Detention Center, a facility on the outskirts of the city where arrested politicians and corporate chiefs are usually held, along with other detainees.


Lowdown on ROK's presidential candidates

The competition to lead Asia's fourth-largest economy got off the marks on Friday after the Constitutional Court dismissed President Park Geun-hye from office.

Park's replacement will have to win an election to be held within 60 days. Here is an introduction to the leading candidates in the race.

Moon Jae-in

The 64-year-old former lawmaker and ex-leader of the main opposition Democratic Party lost to Park in the 2012 election by 3 percentage points. Moon favors closer engagement with Pyongyang. He has also called for the next government to review a decision to deploy the US THAAD missile defense system. He has also pledged to get tougher on the country's conglomerates, saying they need reform. Moon has been at the top of the polls, registering 32 percent in the latest one released by Gallup Korea on Friday.

An Hee-jung

A youthful-looking provincial governor, An, 51, surged to second place in opinion polls after former UN chief Ban Ki-moon dropped out of the race. He is a two-term governor of South Chungcheong province. Some supporters have nicknamed him the "Obama of South Korea". An came second in the latest poll, with support of 17 percent of the 1,005 people questioned. An favors more engagement with Pyongyang.

Ahn Cheol-soo

Ahn, 55, is a former doctor and computer businessman. His popularity has waned in recent months after stepping down as co-chair of the new opposition People's Party, after it became embroiled in a kickback scandal over advertising funds. He got the support of 9 percent of respondents in the latest poll. He is open to dialogue on Pyongyang, though has also advocated a tough line.

Hwang Kyo-ahn

Prime Minister Hwang, 59, became acting president after parliament voted to impeach Park on Dec 9. He is considered a loyalist in Park's cabinet. Hwang scored 9 percent in the latest poll.

Lee Jae-myeong

Lee, the 52-year-old mayor of Seongnam, has surged in the polls as an outspoken critic of Park. A member of the main opposition Democratic Party, Lee has said he wants to be the country's Bernie Sanders, the US Democratic Party insurgent who ran against Hillary Clinton. The latest poll puts him at 8 percent.


 Park facing possibility of going from palace to prison

Supporters of impeached president Park Geun-hye are confronted by police after Park's impeachment was accepted in Seoul on Friday. Later in violent clashes, about 30 protesters and police officers were injured. Liu Yun / Xinhua

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