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(2nd LD) Constitutional Court chief urges verdict on Park impeachment by March 13

All Headlines 12:15 January 25, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATES with Park's lawyer's remark in last 3 paras)

SEOUL, Jan. 25 (Yonhap) -- The outgoing chief of the Constitutional Court on Wednesday called for a verdict on President Park Geun-hye's impeachment by March 13 to ensure a fair trial.

Chief Justice Park Han-chul made the call at the start of the ninth hearing of the ongoing impeachment trial as he noted the end of his own term on Jan. 31 and that of fellow Justice Lee Jung-mi on March 13.

A ruling to unseat or reinstate Park requires the approval of six out of the court's nine justices.

Chief Justice Park Han-chul speaks during the ninth hearing of President Park Geun-hye's impeachment trial at the Constitutional Court in Seoul on Jan. 25, 2017. (Yonhap)

"A decision by the Constitutional Court is made after intense debate among the nine justices, so each justice carries enormous significance," he said. "In the event of an additional vacancy of a justice, this does not simply mean the absence of one person, but can lead to a distorted ruling."

Park was impeached by parliament last month over a corruption scandal centered on her friend Choi Soon-sil. The court has until early June to decide whether to unseat or reinstate her. With the approaching resignations of two justices, however, the court had widely been expected to issue a ruling before March 13.

"Before larger issues arise in the makeup of the Constitutional Court, a final decision must be announced no later than March 13," Justice Park said.

If the court upholds the impeachment, South Korea will hold a presidential election within 60 days. If Park is reinstated, the election will be held in December as scheduled.

Should the court endorse the impeachment before the end of February, the president could be forced to undergo an investigation over the scandal by a special prosecutor who is working with a Feb. 28 deadline. While in office, she remains immune from prosecution.

Park's lawyer Lee Joong-hwan expressed strong displeasure.

"If the Constitutional Court is voicing the opinion of parliament, we can only question the fairness of the trial," he said.

Justice Park countered by slamming the lawyer over his remarks, saying he will not tolerate such "insulting" and "groundless" talk against the court.

hague@yna.co.kr
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