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South Korean President Impeached
Amy Bickers, VOA

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TOKYO - South Korea's parliament has approved an impeachment motion, stripping President Roh Moo-hyun of his powers and plunging the nation into a power vacuum.

The National Assembly voted to impeach South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, an unprecedented move that immediately suspended him from office. Prime Minister Goh Kun temporarily assumed presidential duties.

Both the president and Mr. Goh called for calm, after a week that saw Roh loyalists occupying Parliament, scuffles among lawmakers, and demonstrations outside the National Assembly.

Lee Nae-young, associate professor of political science at Korea University in Seoul, says the impeachment has thrust the country into a period of confusion, which could have grave implications.

"Because of this impeachment, President Roh Moo-hyun will not play the leadership role and there will be uncertainty," he said. "All these problems undermine the Korean economy and also the international relations of South Korea."

The crisis began Tuesday, when opposition leaders filed the impeachment motion against Mr. Roh for violating an election law. He was found to have improperly pledged to help the Uri Party in the April 15 elections.

His supporters from the Uri Party tried to stop parliament members from voting on the bill by blocking access to the chamber.

Some Uri Party members were dragged out of the chamber by security officers for trying to stop Assembly Speaker Park Kwan-yong from taking the podium.

Mr. Park angrily ordered the Uri Party members out of the chamber.

Once the Uri members were out, 193 members of the 273-seat National Assembly voted to impeach the president, more than the two-thirds majority needed.

Uri Party members knelt on the floor and wept after hearing that the impeachment bill had passed. They pledged to resign their 47 seats in protest.

Riot police were on alert and several thousand confronted demonstrators outside the parliament. The Home Affairs Ministry issued a nationwide police alert as a precaution to maintain order.

South Korean cabinet ministers huddled for emergency meetings to try to limit the fallout. President Roh Moo-hyun said he was confident the Constitutional Court would reverse the impeachment vote, and he will return to office.

Under the law, the court will examine the decision, and six of its nine judges must vote to uphold it.

The process could take as long as six months, and the outcome is far from certain.

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