Tens of thousands of South Koreans have marched in Seoul to celebrate the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye and demanding her full removal.
Park Geun-hye is suspended while the top court considers whether to uphold December 9 parliamentary vote to impeach her.
She is accused of allowing a close friend to profit from her connections with the presidency.
According to correspondents, the gathering, estimated at 200,000 by organizers, was smaller than in recent weeks.
Meanwhile PM Hwang Kyo-ahn, who became acting president after yesterday’s vote, sought to calm concerns over national security and to reassure markets
He said on December 10: “So far, financial and foreign exchange markets have been relatively stable and there are no signs of unusual movements by the North [Koreans], but all public servants should bear vigilance in mind.”
Image source Wikimedia
The motion to impeach Park Geun-hye passed by 234 votes to 56, meaning many members of her Saenuri party voted in favor.
Park Geun-hye’s supporters held a Seoul rally that drew an estimated 15,000 people on December 10. Waving national flags, they carried banners that read: “President Park, Don’t Cry” and “Nullify impeachment”.
At the heart of the case is Park Geun-hye’s relationship with long-time friend Choi Soon-sil, who faces charges of coercion and abuse of power.
It is alleged that after Park Geun-hye became president in 2013, Choi Soon-sil, 60, used their friendship to pressure powerful corporations into donating to foundations she controlled and then siphoned off funds for her personal use.
Prosecutors say Park Geun-hye had a “considerable” role in the alleged corruption, which she has denied.
The Constitutional Court has 180 days to make a final ruling.
If at least six of the court’s nine judges rule against Park Geun-hye, she will become the first sitting South Korean president to be deposed in the country’s democratic era and a new presidential election will be held within 60 days.
According to reports from Seoul, South Korea has a plan to annihilate Pyongyang if North Korea shows any signs of mounting a nuclear attack.
A military source told the Yonhap news agency every part of Pyongyang “will be completely destroyed by ballistic missiles and high-explosives shells”.
Yonhap has close ties to South Korea’s government and is publicly funded.
On September 9, North Korea carried out what it said was its fifth, and largest, nuclear test.
The international community is considering its response.
The US says it is considering its own sanctions, in addition to any imposed by the UN Security Council, Japan and South Korea.
Pyongyang responded on September 11 by calling the threats of “meaningless sanctions… highly laughable”.
The South Korean military official told Yonhap that Pyongyang districts thought to be hiding the North’s leadership would be particularly targeted in any attack. Pyongyang, the source said, “will be reduced to ashes and removed from the map”.
News of South Korea’s attack plan for North Korea is believed to have been revealed to parliament following September 9 nuclear test.
Meanwhile, the US’s special envoy for North Korea says Washington is considering taking unilateral action against Pyongyang.
Sung Kim said: “North Korea continues to present a growing threat to the region, to our allies, to ourselves, and we will do everything possible to defend against that growing threat.
“In addition to sanctions in the Security Council, both the US and Japan, together with [South Korea], will be looking at any unilateral measures as well as bilateral measures as well as possible trilateral cooperation.”
North Korea is banned by the UN from any tests of nuclear or missile technology and has been hit by five sets of UN sanctions since its first test in 2006.
The secretive country said September 9 test had been of a “nuclear warhead that has been standardized to be able to be mounted on strategic ballistic rockets”.
Estimates of the explosive yield of the latest blast have varied. South Korea’s military said it was about 10 kilotonnes, enough to make it the North’s “strongest nuclear test ever”. Other experts say initial indications suggest 20 kilotonnes or more.
The nuclear bomb dropped by the US on Hiroshima in 1945 had a yield of about 15 kilotonnes.
President Barack Obama arrived in Seoul for a visit that comes amid concern that North Korea may be planning a fourth nuclear test.
Barack Obama, who arrived from Japan on the second stop of his Asian tour, will hold talks with South Korean leader Park Geun-hye.
Their talks are set to focus on North Korea, following reports of activity at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.
Barack Obama is also expected to express grief over last week’s ferry disaster.
More than 300 people were killed or remain missing after the Sewol passenger ferry sank off South Korea, in a tragedy that has shocked the nation.
Most of those who died were teenagers on a school trip.
Barack Obama arrived in Seoul for a visit that comes amid concern that North Korea may be planning a fourth nuclear test (photo Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)
Barack Obama is expected to hold talks with Park Geun-hye, visit US troops and then fly to Malaysia on Saturday.
Speaking in Japan, the US president called the North Korean problem “the most destabilizing, dangerous situation in all of the Asia-Pacific region”, and described China’s role in influencing Pyongyang as “critically important”.
Earlier this week, South Korea’s military said it had detected “a lot of activity” at the North’s nuclear test site, suggesting it was either planning a test or would pretend to stage one.
North Korea has carried out three such tests in the past, most recently in February 2013 – an incident that triggered months of severe tension on the Korean peninsula.
It also carried out tests in 2006 and 2009. All resulted in the imposition of sanctions by the UN, which bars Pyongyang from nuclear tests under resolution 1718.
A report from 38 North, the website of the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, also confirmed increased activity at the site “probably related to preparations for a detonation”, based on satellite imagery.
The document highlighted “increased movement of vehicles and materials near what are believed to be the entrances to two completed test tunnels”.
While Pyongyang has tested devices, it is not yet believed to have mastered the process of making a nuclear warhead small enough to deliver via a missile.
China is regarded as the nation with the best chance of influencing North Korea’s behavior, because of their trade ties.
“We will not allow war and chaos on China’s doorstep,” foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said on Thursday.
“In the meantime, we have consistently and proactively advocated dialogue and negotiation.”
Also on Barack Obama’s agenda will be Seoul’s ties with Japan. The US wants its two main Asian allies to work together to tackle North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
But rows over disputed islands and unresolved historical tensions have severely strained the Tokyo-Seoul relationship.
Last month, the US brokered a meeting between South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye and Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe in a bid to put things back on track.
In Japan, Barack Obama issued a firm statement of support over Tokyo’s dispute over a separate set of islands with China.
Families of passengers on sunken South Korean ferry Sewol have protested angrily over the rescue operation.
Police stopped up to 100 people trying to leave Jindo island intending to march to Seoul.
After more than three days, divers have now finally entered the ferry, retrieving 22 bodies and bringing the death toll to 54.
However, another 248 people are still missing from the Sewol ferry, which sank on Wednesday.
Some 174 passengers were rescued.
Since the capsize, many of the relatives of those on board have been on Jindo, in the south-west of the country.
Hundreds have been camping at a gymnasium on the island, awaiting news from the rescue operation.
Scuffles broke out when some family members tried to cross a bridge to the mainland, reportedly to march on the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, some 260 miles to the north.
Relatives are anxious for the bodies to be retrieved before they decompose.
Families of passengers on sunken South Korean ferry Sewol have protested angrily over the rescue operation
Even the prime minister came down to try to dissuade the protesters from marching on Seoul, with officials worried that the controversy could turn into a national political issue and harm the government.
About 200 ships, 34 aircraft and 600 divers have been taking part in the search operation.
Squid fishing boats with powerful lights have been brought in to help the divers operate at night.
But the currents are still strong and the visibility remains challenging.
Coastguard official Koh Myung-seok told a briefing that divers had discovered a number of routes into the ferry, and found bodies in different locations.
Captain Lee Joon-seok and two other crew members are in custody and have been charged with negligence of duty and violation of maritime law.
Officials said on Saturday that the ferry was being steered by an inexperienced third mate in unfamiliar waters when it sank.
Lee Joon-seok, 69, was not initially on the bridge when the ship ran into trouble.
The Sewol, carrying 476 passengers and crew, capsized during a journey from the port of Incheon in the north-west to the southern holiday island of Jeju.
Investigations are focusing on a sharp turn the vessel took before it started listing and whether an evacuation order could have saved lives.
Some experts believe the ship’s tight turn could have dislodged heavy cargo and destabilized the vessel, while others suggest the sinking could have been caused by a collision with a rock.
Messages and phone calls from those inside painted a picture of people trapped in crowded corridors, unable to escape the sharply-listing ferry.
Footage from the ship appeared to show instructions from crew members for passengers to remain on board even as it tilted dramatically to one side.
Some 350 of those on board were students from Danwon High School in Ansan, a suburb of Seoul, who were on a school outing when the ferry sank.
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