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South Korean Park stays away from impeachment hearing

South Korean Park stays away from impeachment hearingSouth Korea's Constitutional Court held its first open hearing on Tuesday to determine the fate of President Park Geun-hye following her impeachment over a corruption scandal involving her and her longtime friend, Yonhap news agency reported.

Park, who has had her presidential powers suspended until a decision is made by the court, did not appear before the nine-member bench in a widely anticipated move.

Court President Park Han-chul closed the session nine minutes after it began, citing Park's absence.

"We will do our best to conduct a strict and fair review of the impeachment case," he said.

The first arguments in the impeachment case have been postponed to the second hearing to be held Thursday. Should Park fail to show up again, he added that the trial will proceed through a proxy.

Park was impeached by the National Assembly on December 9 over her alleged involvement in a string of suspected crimes committed by Choi Soon-sil. Choi, a daughter of Park's late mentor Choi Tae-min, has been accused of abusing her ties to the president to gain various business and personal favors despite having no position in the government.

Park has denied all of the allegations against her, saying she only received simple advice from Choi and carried out her presidential duties faithfully.

She especially insisted on her innocence during a meeting with reporters on New Year's Day, her first public appearance since the impeachment. Critics denounced the move, saying her use of the official presidential quarters and help from her staff amounted to a breach of her suspension of duties.

Currently, two additional hearings have been scheduled for Thursday and next Tuesday, during which some of the key suspects in the case have been asked to appear before the court. They include Choi, An Chong-bum former senior presidential secretary for policy coordination, and Jeong Ho-seong former secretary for private presidential affairs.

Speaking to reporters, Park's legal representative Lee Joong-hwan said she is unlikely to attend future hearings "unless there are special circumstances." Citing law, he also said an impeachment trial is meant to proceed in the absence of the defendant.

Another attorney of Park indicated that Park's refusal to attend hearings was based on a precedent set by former President Roh Moo-hyun. During Roh's impeachment trial in 2004, he did not appear before the court, citing concerns that he could be exposed to the political offensive from the parliamentary impeachment panel.

The court has 180 days to decide whether to unseat or reinstate Park. In the meantime, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn is serving as the country's acting president.
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