Acting S.Korean president asks to respect court's ruling on impeachment

A supporter of impeached South Korean President Park Geun-hye waves flags of the US and South Korea during a rally

"We have been closely following the developments in South Korea where the Constitutional Court has upheld a parliamentary vote to impeach the president", she said.

North Korea's test-firing of four ballistic missiles ratcheted up concerns about the nation's nuclear program.

The scandal has rocked South Korea - and not just because it involves the president.

The main opposition Democratic Party urged Park to accept the court ruling, saying she was behaving as if she rejected the decision, which was reached unanimously by the court's eight judges.

It also deepens South Korea's political and security uncertainty as the country faces existential threats from North Korea, reported economic retaliation from a China furious about Seoul's cooperation with the US on an anti-missile system and questions in Seoul about the new Trump administration's commitment to the countries' security alliance.

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"The court's ruling shows that in any circumstance Korea's democracy is still solid, including the president's impeachment", Lee Won-jae, a prominent economist and political commentator, says in an email from Seoul.

The U.S. State Department said it would continue to work with the acting president and whoever becomes the next president.

Park was South Korea's first female president and the daughter of the military dictator Park Chung-hee.

Friday's decision by the court represents a watershed moment in South Korean politics and concludes one turbulent political process, but begins another.

"Whoever gets elected as the next South Korean president, turning over the agreement, such as the deployment of THAAD will be extremely hard", Cha Du-hyeogn, a former intelligence secretary to South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, told NK News.

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Park did not appear in court and did not make any comment after the ruling. Chaebol bosses, including Lee's father, have been convicted in previous corruption cases, but punishments have usually been light or commuted. Park, 65, not only lost the presidency but also her legal immunity, opening her to prosecution for bribery, extortion, and abuse of power.

She was impeached by parliament on December 9.

It is not clear when prosecutors will try to interview her.

Park Geun-hye has also been accused of soliciting bribes from the head of the Samsung Group for government favors, including backing a merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015 that was seen as supporting family succession and control over the country's largest chaebol, or family-run conglomerate.

An election to pick her successor must be held within 60 days, the court ruled.

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If it is rejected, Park, who has been holed up in the presidential palace with her power suspended, would immediately return to office and stay until the end of her term in February 2018. Moon Jae-in, liberal and leader of the Democratic Party, is now ahead in the polls. He has stressed the need for dialogue with Pyongyang and has said Seoul should reconsider its plans to deploy THAAD, the USA missile-defense system.