South Korea: The day Park Geun-hye was ousted
Thousands celebrate removal of South Korean leader, while supporters storm court leaving two protesters dead.
As we walked the last couple of kilometres to the Constitutional Court, the extraordinary nature of this day was clear from the start.
The streets around it were cordoned off with more police buses I can remember seeing in a concentrated area in Seoul – and that’s saying something for a police force that knows how to precision park buses by the score.
We were stopped for ID checks half a dozen times.
The sound of President Park Geun-hye’s supporters several streets away boomed in the background.
READ MORE: A day-by-day look of the fall of President Park Geun-hye
The question was – would they do it? Would the constitutional court judges remove a sitting president for the first time in South Korea’s young democratic history?
They had plenty of seemingly good reasons: The overwhelming majority of public opinion in favour of impeachment; the risk of prolonged civil unrest if they restored her to power; the admission by Park’s lawyers that she had passed sensitive documents to her friend, Choi Soon-sil, but only for limited advice on presentation.
Park’s lawyers had also argued, though, that the actual evidence amassed by the opposition was not sufficient for impeachment, if judged solely on its value. And she had not resigned ahead of the verdict, scotching a persistent rumour.
So there was still more than an element of doubt.
But when the ruling came it was conclusive. Park Geun-hye had abused her power, the judges unanimously agreed, by helping Choi coerce millions out of giant corporations, and allowing her undue influence over and access to state affairs.
Her impeachment was upheld.
The next chapter
Among her supporters there was wailing, talk of resurgent communism, of national security disaster under a presumed liberal presidency to follow. And there was violence, as some tried to storm the court. Several were injured; two protesters died.
For the crowd that has come to represent mainstream opinion, though, this was a day to relish. Over 19 Saturday nights they’d gathered in their tens or hundreds of thousands to demand her ouster.
Tonight, as I write this from our bureau, I can hear them celebrating victory.
And so presumably, and bizarrely, can Park Geun-hye. She’s defied expectations that she would be immediately thrown out of the Blue House – her childhood home during her father’s rule, as well as her official residence during her own.
An aide told reporters security arrangements around her private home had not been finalised.
But one thing is clear wherever she is: She is no longer president, and no longer has immunity from prosecution.
That is likely to be the next chapter of that extraordinary story.
It won’t be one that I report. This was my last day as Al Jazeera’s Seoul correspondent. I’m moving to the Jerusalem bureau. It was quite a way to finish.
My successor will have the (sometimes mixed) blessing of a near-ceaseless stream of news, and the unqualified good fortune of a fantastic cameraman and producer to help report it.