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(3rd LD) Court hears final arguments in Park's impeachment trial

All Headlines 18:29 February 27, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATES with details in paras 9-13; ADDS photo; RESTRUCTURES paras 3-5)

SEOUL, Feb. 27 (Yonhap) -- The Constitutional Court on Monday heard the final arguments of President Park Geun-hye and the National Assembly as it pushed to complete its review of the legality of the president's impeachment by early March.

Park did not appear at the final hearing, but she highlighted her efforts to serve the nation in a statement read by one of her defense attorneys.

"I have never been involved in corruption and graft in my more than 20 years in politics," she said in the statement read by Lee Dong-heub.

Park was impeached on Dec. 9 for allegedly letting her close friend Choi Soon-sil meddle in state affairs and colluding with her to extort money from local conglomerates.

She expressed "regret" for causing "great pain" to the people but reiterated her claim that she only received trivial advice from Choi.

Acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi presides over the final hearing of President Park Geun-hye's impeachment trial at the Constitutional Court in Seoul on Feb. 27, 2017. (Yonhap)

The prosecution's final argument was made by the National Assembly impeachment panel, starting with Rep. Kwon Seong-dong of the minor conservative Bareun Party.

Members of the panel especially highlighted Park's fault in failing to protect lives during a 2014 ferry sinking that killed more than 300. The alleged neglect of duty was cited in the parliament's impeachment resolution.

If the court upholds the impeachment and permanently removes Park from office, South Korea is required to hold a presidential election within 60 days.

Both Park's lawyers and the parliamentary panel appeared to appeal to the public sentiment by raising issues that have long struck a chord with the president's advocates or critics.

Lee, the president's attorney, noted again that she is unmarried and without children or family to depend on.

"She has only spent her time working at Cheong Wa Dae," he said, referring to the presidential office. "Upholding the impeachment is excessively harsh treatment even from a human perspective."

Lee Yong-gu, a lawyer representing the parliament, meanwhile, reminded the court that 295 died in the ferry disaster, while 152 were injured and nine remain unaccounted for.

"What the people want is for the president to show that she values the lives of the people in an emergency and is doing everything possible to save them," he said. "The president did not demonstrate that and wasn't even aware that she had such a responsibility."

Tensions rose between the impeached leader's supporters and opponents.

From early morning, dozens of protesters rallied outside the court to demand Park's ouster or reinstatement. The protests were nonviolent, although sometimes rowdy, prompting police to intervene and remove protesters from the site.

Park's lawyers are again expected to challenge the legitimacy of the trial. They have argued the court has been unfair toward the president by closing hearings at an early date.

Some of them have hinted they may not accept the court's ruling because it will be delivered by eight justices instead of nine, following the retirement of Chief Justice Park Han-chul last month.

The court is widely expected to announce its ruling by March 13, when acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi is set to retire.

Some legal experts speculate that the court may break from past practice and announce the date of its ruling at the end of Monday's hearing to prevent unnecessary social strife.

The court usually announces the date of a ruling three or four days in advance.

President Park Geun-hye's supporters rally outside the Constitutional Court in Seoul on Feb. 27, 2017. (Yonhap)

hague@yna.co.kr
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