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S. Korea: Impeachment Showdown Looms - 2004-03-11

South Korea's leading opposition parties say they have secured enough support to impeach President Roh Moo-hyun in a vote expected to take place Friday. A dramatic impeachment showdown threatening to unseat South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun took an unexpected turn Thursday, with opposition parties claiming they have enough votes to oust the leader.

As supporters loyal to President Roh blocked the Parliament building in Seoul Thursday to prevent an impeachment vote from going forward, opposition groups said they had the support of two-thirds of the lawmakers -- enough to trigger the president's impeachment. Parliament adjourned Thursday evening and the vote is expected on Friday.

If impeached, the 57 year old former labor and human rights lawyer will be suspended from office immediately and Prime Minister Goh Kun will take over as interim leader. South Korea's Constitutional Court would then have six months to rule whether or not to uphold the impeachment.

Opposition groups are angry with President Roh for violating an election law by voicing support for the pro-government Uri Party. Senior officials in South Korea are prohibited from playing favorites during parliamentary elections. South Korean go to the polls on April 15.

On Thursday, the feisty leader acknowledged the violation but said it did not warrant impeachment. He also slammed the opposition, accusing it of launching an abusive attack. President Roh says the result from the upcoming election will reveal the public's perception of him and he says he will make a decision on his political future accordingly.

Mr. Roh took office in February 2002 and vowed to clean up South Korea's political system, which has been tainted by numerous corruption scandals. Surveys show most South Koreans want Mr. Roh to apologize but believe his offense is too minor for impeachment. However, his ratings have slipped below thirty-percent because of a widening campaign finance scandal involving all political parties, corruption allegations among his aides, economic problems and the unresolved nuclear dispute with North Korea.