South Korean court throws president out of office, two dead in protest

South Korea's Constitutional Court removed President Park Geun-hye from office on Friday over a graft scandal involving the country's conglomerates at a time of rising tensions with North Korea and China.

The ruling sparked protests from hundreds of her supporters, two of whom were killed in clashes with police outside the court.

Park becomes South Korea's first democratically elected leader to be forced from office, capping months of paralysis and turmoil over a corruption scandal that also landed the head of the Samsung conglomerate in jail.

See images of President Park Geun-hye's impeachment:

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South Korean President Park Geun-hye's impeachment
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South Korean President Park Geun-hye's impeachment
FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Park Geun-Hye (C) salutes during the 67th Armed Forces Day at Gyeryongdae, South Korea's main compound in Gyeryong City, South Korea, South Korea, October 1, 2015. REUTERS/Kim Hee-Chul/Pool/File Photo TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A pro-government activist (C) holds a portrait of South Korean President Park Geun-Hye outside the Constitutional Court in Seoul on February 27, 2017 as the court holds its final hearing in the impeachment trial of South Korea's President Park Geun-Hye. / AFP / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - MARCH 10: Travelers watch the news reporting on South Korean President Park Geun-hye's impeachment ruling while they wait for their trains at the Seoul Station on March 10, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. The verdict on South Korean President Park's impeachment will be delivered by the Constitutional Court at 11 a.m on March 10, 2017. The hearing will be televised live from the main courtroom; Park is not expected to attend the hearing. (Photo by Jean Chung/Getty Images)
An altar to buddhist monk Jung Won is displayed at a hospital in Seoul on January 10, 2017. A South Korean Buddhist monk who set himself on fire in protest against the impeached President Park Geun-Hye has died, officials said. The monk, 64, set himself alight on January 7 in central Seoul, where hundreds of thousands held a massive rally for the 11th week to demand Park's immediate removal. / AFP / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - MARCH 10: A traveler watches the news reporting on South Korean President Park Geun-hye's impeachment ruling while they wait for their trains at the Seoul Station on March 10, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. The verdict on South Korean President Park's impeachment will be delivered by the Constitutional Court at 11 a.m on March 10, 2017. The hearing will be televised live from the main courtroom; Park is not expected to attend the hearing. (Photo by Jean Chung/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - MARCH 09: Supporters of South Korean President, Park Geun-hye take part in a rally in front of the Korean Constitutional Court before the impeachment verdict which is to be announced on March 10 in Seoul, South Korea on March 09, 2017. (Photo by Kim Jong Hyun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A demonstrator demanding South Korean President Park Geun-hye's impeachment holds a sign featuring a photograph of Park during a protest outside the Constitutional Court of Korea ahead of the court's ruling in Seoul, South Korea, on Friday, March 10, 2017. Any successor to Park will inherit a struggling economy that faces heightened risks from China and the U.S., its biggest trading partners, as well as record household debt. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - MARCH 09: Supporters of South Korean President, Park Geun-hye take part in a rally in front of the Korean Constitutional Court before the impeachment verdict which is to be announced on March 10 in Seoul, South Korea on March 09, 2017. (Photo by Kim Jong Hyun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
South Korean acting Constitutional Court's Chief Judge Lee Jung-mi, center, attends the final hearing on whether to confirm the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, at the Court in Seoul February 27, 2017. Special prosecutors investigating the swirling corruption scandal that has embroiled South Korea's impeached President Park Geun-Hye and a host of major companies lost a bid to extend their inquiry on February 27. / AFP / POOL / Ahn Young-joon (Photo credit should read AHN YOUNG-JOON/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Park Geun-hye looks at the exhibition 'DMZ-Gruenes Band' during a visit to the East Side Gallery in Berlin March 27, 2014. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/File Photo TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Pro-government demonstrators holding US and South Korean attend a rally in central Seoul on February 11, 2017. Hundreds of thousands of people took part in rival rallies in Seoul, protesting for and against the impeachment of President Park Geun-Hye, after months of political turmoil in South Korea. / AFP / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Jang Si-ho, a niece of Choi Soon-sil, arrives at the central district court in Seoul on January 17, 2017. Choi is accused of using her ties with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye to coerce top local firms to 'donate' nearly 70 million US dollars to dubious non-profit foundations Choi then used as her personal ATMs. / AFP / POOL / Kim Min-Hee (Photo credit should read KIM MIN-HEE/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows a Samsung apartment building in Seoul on January 19, 2017. A South Korean court has refused to authorise the arrest of the heir to the Samsung business empire, in a setback to prosecutors probing a corruption scandal engulfing President Park Geun-Hye. / AFP / Ed JONES (Photo credit should read ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)
Choi Soon-Sil (L), the jailed confidante of disgraced South Korean President Park Geun-Hye, appears on the first day of her trial at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul on January 5, 2017. Choi, the woman at the centre of a corruption scandal that triggered the biggest political crisis for a generation in South Korea, appeared in court on January 5 on fraud charges. / AFP / POOL / Chung Sung-Jun (Photo credit should read CHUNG SUNG-JUN/AFP/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JANUARY 5: Jeong Ho-seong, former secretary for private presidential affairs, appears for his first trial at the Seoul Central District Court on January 5, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. Jeong Ho-seong is key witness in President Park Geun-hye's impeachment trial, who is at the center of possible corruption scandal that has been leading the president's impeachment appeared at the court hearing. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
South Korean Constitutional Court's Chief Judge Park Han-Chul attends a hearing on whether to confirm the impeachment of President Park Geun-Hye at the Court in Seoul on January 5, 2017. / AFP / POOL / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters carry portraits of South Korea's President Park Geun-Hye during a protest demanding the impeached President resign immediately in Seoul on January 7, 2017. Hundreds of thousands of protestors returned to the streets of Seoul on January 7, demanding impeached President Park Geun-Hye's immediate removal and the salvaging of a sunken ferry which left more than 300 dead. / AFP / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters walk past a candle-shaped monument during a candle-lit rally calling for South Korean President Park Geun-Hye's immediate departure from her office, in downtown Seoul on December 31, 2016. South Korea sees in the new year with a massive protest calling for an immediate arrest of impeached President Park Geun-Hye. / AFP / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Park Geun-hye addresses a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (not pictured) at the Chancellery in Berlin March 26, 2014. Red circle is from a light on a TV camera. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/File Photo TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - DECEMBER 24: Choi Soon-Sil (C), longtime confidante of the South Korean President Park Geun-hye, arrives for questioning into her suspected role in political scandal at the office of the independent counsel on December 24, 2016 in Seoul, South Korea. A South Korean Independent Counsel Team summoned Choi who allegedly exploited her connections with Park to extort money and favors from the country's largest companies and manipulate government affairs from the shadows. (Photo by Kim Min-Hee-Pool/Getty Images)
Portraits of South Korea's President Park Geun-Hye (C) and her aides are set in a mock prison during a rally against the scandal-hit president in central Seoul on December 17, 2016. Tens of thousands of protesters turned out in Seoul for the eighth straight week on December 17, pushing for the swift and permanent removal of impeached South Korean President Park Geun-Hye. / AFP / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - DECEMBER 14: Opposition People's Party lawmaker Lee Yong-Joo shows impeached President Park Geun-Hye's three pictures combo taken on May during a parliamentary hearing over the Choi Soon-sil gate probe at the National Assembly on December 14, 2016 in Seoul, South Korea. South Korea started the third round parliament hearing on the corruption scandal involving impeached President Park Geun-Hye. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
South Korean protesters carry an effigy of President Park Geun-Hye during a rally against the scandal-hit president in central Seoul on December 17, 2016. Tens of thousands of protesters turned out in Seoul for the eighth straight week on December 17, pushing for the swift and permanent removal of impeached South Korean President Park Geun-Hye. / AFP / JUNG Yeon-Je (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
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A snap presidential election will be held within 60 days.

She did not appear in court and a spokesman said she would not be making any comment nor would she leave the presidential Blue House residence on Friday.

"For now, Park is not leaving the Blue House today," Blue House spokesman Kim Dong Jo told Reuters.

Park was stripped of her powers after parliament voted to impeach her but has remained in the president's official compound.

The court's acting chief judge, Lee Jung-mi, said Park had violated the constitution and law "throughout her term", and despite the objections of parliament and the media, she had concealed the truth and cracked down on critics.

Park has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing.

The ruling to uphold parliament's Dec. 9 vote to impeach her marks a dramatic fall from grace of South Korea's first woman president and daughter of Cold War military dictator Park Chung-hee, both of whose parents were assassinated.

Park, 65, no longer has immunity as president, and could now face criminal charges over bribery, extortion and abuse of power in connection with allegations of conspiring with her friend, Choi Soon-sil.

MARKETS RISE

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn was appointed acting president and will remain in that post until the election. He called on Park's supporters and opponents to put their differences aside to prevent deeper division.

"It is time to accept, and close the conflict and confrontation we have suffered," Hwang said in a televised speech.

A liberal presidential candidate, Moon Jae-in, is leading in opinion polls to succeed Park, with 32 percent in one released on Friday. Hwang, who has not said whether he will seek the presidency, leads among conservatives, none of whom has more than single-digit poll ratings.

"Given Park's spectacular demise and disarray among conservatives, the presidential contest in May is the liberals' to lose," said Yonsei University professor John Delury.

Relations with China and the United States could dominate the coming presidential campaign, after South Korea this month deployed the U.S. THAAD missile defense system in response to North Korea's stepped up missile and nuclear tests.

Beijing has vigorously protested against the deployment, fearing its radar could see into its missile deployments. China has curbed travel to South Korea and targeted Korean companies operating in the mainland, prompting retaliatory measures from Seoul.

The Seoul market's benchmark KOSPI index .KS11 and the KRW= rose after the ruling.

The prospect of a new president in the first half of this year instead of prolonged uncertainty will buoy domestic demand as well as the markets, said Trinh Nguyen, senior economist at Natixis in Hong Kong.

"The hope is that this will allow the country to have a new leader that can address long-standing challenges such as labor market reforms and escalated geopolitical tensions," he said.

Park was accused of colluding with her friend, Choi, and a former presidential aide, both of whom have been on trial, to pressure big businesses to donate to two foundations set up to back her policy initiatives.

The court said Park had "completely hidden the fact of (Choi's) interference with state affairs".

Park was also 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 conglomerate.

Samsung Group leader Jay Y. Lee has been accused of bribery and embezzlement in connection with the scandal and is in detention. His trial began on Thursday.

He and Samsung have denied wrongdoing.

'COMMON CRIMINAL'

The scandal and verdict have exposed fault lines in a country long divided by Cold War politics.

While Park's conservative supporters clashed with police outside the court, elsewhere, most people welcomed her ouster. A recent poll showed more than 70 percent supported her impeachment.

Hundreds of thousands of people have for months been gathering at peaceful rallies in Seoul every weekend to call for her to step down.

On Friday, hundreds of Park's supporters, many of them elderly, tried to break through police barricades at the courthouse. Police said one 72-year-old man was taken to hospital with a head injury and died. The circumstances of the second death were being investigated.

Six people were injured, protest organizers said.

Police blocked the main thoroughfare running through downtown Seoul in anticipation of bigger protests.

Park will be making a tragic and untimely departure from the Blue House for the second time in her life.

In 1979, having served as acting first lady after her mother was killed by a bullet meant for her father, she and her two siblings left the presidential compound after their father was killed.

This time, she could end up in jail.

Prosecutors have named Park as an accomplice in two court cases linked to the scandal, suggesting she is likely to be investigated.

North Korean state media wasted little time labeling Park a criminal.

"She had one more year left as 'president' but, now she's been ousted, she will be investigated as a common criminal," the North's state KCNA news agency said shortly after the court decision.

(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park, James Pearson, Heekyong Yang and Dahee Kim in SEOUL, Yeganeh Torbati in WASHINGTON; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

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