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Last Updated: Friday, 12 March, 2004, 07:56 GMT
South Korean president impeached
Scuffles in the South Korean parliament
MPs tried to physically prevent the vote being called
South Korea's parliament has impeached President Roh Moo-hyun for endorsing a pro-government party and incompetence ahead of next month's general election.

The opposition parties which dominate the chamber impeached Mr Roh by a vote of 193 to 2, suspending his powers pending a Constitutional Court ruling.

Scuffles broke out before the vote as security guards ended protests by MPs loyal to Mr Roh, dragging them outside.

The vote looked set to spark a period of mounting political uncertainty.

President Roh's powers suspended
Case decided by Constitutional Court, could take six months
PM Goh Kun becomes acting head of state
15 April National Assembly elections to go ahead

The impeachment is the culmination of a row between Mr Roh and the opposition-controlled National Assembly. Analysts say the charges against Mr Roh were relatively minor, and the stand-off has more to do with jockeying for the 15 April general elections.

Looking relaxed and smiling, Mr Roh confirmed that his impeachment would be formalised later on Friday but added that he believed the court would throw it out.

Prime Minister Goh Kun, who becomes acting head of state for an interval which could last up to six months, called an emergency cabinet meeting.

Legislators had been occupying the parliamentary rostrum for three days when Speaker Park Kwan-yong arrived with the guards who proceeded to remove them one by one, clearing the path for the vote to be called.

"You asked for it," the speaker said as supporters of President Roh shouted and wept at the unprecedented impeachment, some crying "stop the coup".

The main charge against Mr Roh is that he violating his neutrality as president by publicly supporting the new Uri Party.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun
I hope that within a few months, I will be able to carry on my job as president. I will neither get frustrated nor give up
Roh Moo-hyun

But analysts say the opposition's real reason for acting is it fears losing seats to the Uri party in next month's elections.

Breach of rules

Before the session began, the president tried to defuse the crisis by apologising. But this was rejected by the party behind the impeachment move, the Millennium Democratic Party (MDP), which had once backed him.

"Regardless of which side is wrong, I offer my sincere apology for the situation in which the political confrontation has led to an impeachment move against me," Mr Roh said.

The MDP was joined by the largest opposition party, the Grand National Party (GNP), in the impeachment vote, which needed two thirds approval in the National Assembly, or 181 votes.

"It was a nation-saving decision to impeach President Roh, who has caused chaos in state affairs and is tainted by corruption scandals," commented the GNP's Eun Jin-soo.

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The impeachment now goes to the Constitutional Court where six out of the court's nine judges will have to back the measure for it to be approved.

The president's powers are suspended until the constitutional court's ruling, which could take up to six months.

Mr Roh came to office last year promising to clean up corrupt links between government and big business.

But he has been severely weakened by allegations that his closest aides and family members took up to $10m in illegal election funds from businessmen.

However, opposition aides are accused of having taken even more money, and Mr Roh said earlier this year that he would resign if his camp was found to have taken more than a tenth of the illegal funds raised by the opposition.

The BBC's Charles Scanlon
"Government supporters went down fighting"

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Country profile: South Korea
24 May 03  |  Country profiles

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