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Court Overturns South Korean President's Impeachment - 2004-05-14


South Korea's Constitutional Court has overturned the impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun and restored his executive powers, effective immediately.

The decision on Friday by the nine judges brings to an end 63 days of leadership crisis in South Korea.

The president of the Constitutional Court, Yun Young-chul, announced the reinstatement of President Roh Moo-hyun in a national broadcast.

The head judge says the court has overturned the impeachment case.

The announcement sent up cheers and yellow balloons from Roh supporters outside the court. Hundreds of riot police ringed the building but there were no reports of violence.

Mr. Roh immediately returned to work, appearing at the presidential office building on Friday morning. South Korean media say he will address the country on Saturday.

President Roh was impeached by the opposition-dominated National Assembly on March 12 for illegal electioneering, failing to stop corruption and mismanagement of the world's 12th largest economy. The court ruled that election laws had been violated but the infraction was too minor to warrant impeachment. The other two charges were thrown out.

The court says its nine judges were split over the decision. But it gave no indication how many of the justices were for or against impeachment. Six of the nine judges would have had to vote for impeachment to have permanently removed Mr. Roh from office.

Prime Minister Goh Kun has been serving as acting president, but Mr. Roh remained in the Blue House presidential residence during the two-month period.

The unprecedented impeachment on March 12 by the country's single house national legislature actually prompted a boost in public support for Mr. Roh. The pro-government Uri Party recorded a resounding victory in general elections last month while the two main parties that had backed impeachment were soundly defeated.

The main opposition Grand National Party lost its majority in the legislature to the Uri Party, putting power into the hands of liberal elements for the first time in the history of the country's parliament.

Analysts says Mr. Roh's re-instatement will give a boost to his efforts to reduce corruption and increase transparency among South Korea's large family-owned conglomerates. It is also expected to make it easier for South Korea to pursue Mr. Roh's engagement policy to reduce tensions with North Korea over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons development.

Mr. Roh, a former labor lawyer, was elected to a five-year term in February 2003. Under South Korean law, the president cannot run for re-election.

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