South Korean President Park Geun-Hye was fired by the country's top court on Friday, as it upheld her impeachment by parliament over a wide-ranging corruption scandal.
The unanimous decision brought months of political turmoil -- that saw millions of people take to the streets -- to a climax and triggers a new presidential election which is to be held within 60 days.
It also means Park, the country's first female president, also becomes its first leader to be removed by impeachment. She is obliged to leave the Blue House and loses her executive immunity from prosecution.
Park's actions "seriously impaired the spirit of representative democracy and the rule of law," constitutional court chief justice Lee Jung-Mi said. "President Park Geun-Hye… has been dismissed."
Rival groups of supporters and opponents watched as the verdict was read out live on television.
Park was found to have broken the law by allowing her friend Choi Soon-Sil to meddle in state affairs, and breached rules on public servants' activities.
"Park's breaching of the constitution and the laws betrayed the trust of the people," said Lee, describing her actions as "a serious and unacceptable violation of the laws".
The president "completely concealed Choi's meddling in state affairs and denied it whenever suspicions over the act emerged and even criticised those who raised the suspicions."
One of Park's lawyers expressed "strong regrets" over the verdict.
But Kwon Seong-Dong, a lawmaker and a member of the parliamentary indictment committee, said the verdict confirmed "the rule of law that all people including the president are equal in front of the law."
Park, the daughter of a late army-backed dictator, secured the highest vote share of any candidate in the democratic era when she was elected in 2012.
But her aloof style and a series of controversies, coupled with mounting economic and social frustrations, saw her ratings plunge and millions take to the streets to demand her removal.
She was impeached by parliament in December on charges including bribery and abuse of power, and the Constitutional Court, which under South Korean law had the final say, upheld the decision on Friday.
A heavy police presence was deployed in the streets around the building, where thousands of supporters and opponents gathered amid rising tensions ahead of the verdict.
Loudspeakers at an anti-impeachment demonstration blared out military songs and protestors chanted slogans, many waving South Korean and US flags.
"I am ready to shed my blood on the road to protect free democracy," said Bae Soo-Rok, 58, a retired soldier wearing a South Korean marine uniform, before the decision.
"President Park is being sacrificed at something like a kangaroo court."
Anti-Park demonstrators watching a giant screen set up on the street chanted, "Park Geun-Hye's impeachment will be a victory for all!"
An overwhelming majority of South Koreans -- around 77 percent -- supported Park's removal in opinion polls.
She repeatedly apologised for the impact of the scandal, but rejected all allegations of wrongdoing when she submitted a written statement to the court's last hearing in February.
"I've never sought private gains or abused power as president... I plead with the court to make a wise decision," she said.
Her confidante Choi Soon-Sil, the woman at the centre of the scandal, is already on trial.
The presidential election is expected to be held on May 9. The front-runner is Moon Jae-In, former leader of the opposition Democratic Party, who had the support of 36.1 percent in a Realmeter poll released on Thursday.
(Feature image source: Reuters)