* Park violated law and constitutional duty - court
* Ruling triggers unprecedented snap election to elect new
* Crowd of Pro-Park protesters surround court after ruling
(Adds details, more quotes from ruling, protests)
By Joyce Lee and Cynthia Kim
SEOUL, March 10 South Korea's Constitutional
Court removed President Park Geun-hye from office on Friday over
a graft scandal involving South Korea's conglomerates at a time
of rising tensions with North Korea and China.
Park becomes South Korea's first democratically elected
leader to be forced from office, capping months of paralysis and
turmoil as hundreds of thousands crammed the streets to protest
a corruption scandal that has also landed the head of the
Samsung conglomerate in a jail cell.
A presidential election will be held in 60 days, according
to the constitution.
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 press, she had
concealed the truth and cracked down on critics.
"The removal of the claimee from office is overwhelmingly to
the benefit of the protection of the constitution. ... We remove
President Park Geun-hye from office," Lee told the hearing.
Park denied any wrongdoing.
The ruling to uphold parliament's Dec. 9 vote to impeach her
over the scandal 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 her parents were assassinated.
She did not appear in court on Friday.
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,
Park was stripped of her powers after parliament voted to
impeach her but has remained in the president's official
compound, the Blue House. A spokesman said on Friday she would
leave and return to her private home in Seoul.
The Seoul market's benchmark KOSPI index and the
rose after the ruling. The top regulator has played down
any negative impact on markets and the central bank is scheduled
to hold an emergency meeting later on Friday.
"As the saga is coming to an end, markets will be relieved
that South Korea finally can push forward to press ahead with
electing new leadership," 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 labour
market reforms and escalated geopolitical tensions."
Park, 65, was been 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 favours, including backing a
merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015 that was seen as
supporting the succession of control over the country's largest
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.
PROTESTS AFTER VERDICT
Hundreds of demonstrators, both for and against Park, have
gathered outside the court, which was blockaded by police buses.
After the verdict, Park's supporters and police scuffled but
elsewhere in the city, people welcomed her ouster. A recent poll
showed more than 70 percent supported her impeachment.
The main thoroughfare running through downtown Seoul was
blockaded after the court's decision in anticipation of growing
protests later in the day.
Prosecutors have named Park, who now loses her presidential
immunity from prosecution, as an accomplice in two court cases
linked to the scandal, suggesting she is likely to be
investigated and could face legal proceedings.
Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn was appointed acting president
and will remain in that post until the election. If Hwang
resigns, as some media have speculated he may to run for
president, the finance minister will take over as acting
The U.S. State Department said it would continue to work
with the acting president and whoever becomes the next
Relations with China and the United States could dominate
the coming presidential campaign, after South Korea this month
deployed the U.S. THAAD missile defence system in response to
North Korea's stepped up missile and nuclear tests.
China has vociferously protested against the deployment,
fearing its sophisticated radar could see into its own missile
(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park, James Pearson, in SEOUL,
Yeganeh Torbati in WASHINGTON; Editing by Robert Birsel, Michael
Perry and Jack Kim)