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S. Korean court to give verdict on presidential impeachment in March

S. Korean court to give verdict on presidential impeachment in MarchSouth Korean Constitutional Court said on Thursday it plans to conclude President Park Geun-hye's impeachment hearings next week, prompting speculation that a ruling could come in early March, Yonhap news agency reported.

Park was impeached in December over allegations she let her friend Choi Soon-sil meddle in state affairs and colluded with her to extort money from conglomerates.

"The court plans to conclude the hearings on February 24 after completing the questioning of witnesses," acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi said during the 14th hearing.

"I ask both sides to submit their final statements by February 23 and prepare for the final defense during the hearing on February 24," Lee added.

Park's lawyers claimed they need more time to prepare, saying even "ordinary trials" allow more time between the submission of the final statement and the final oral defense.

Justice Kang Il-won, the lead justice for the case, refused to reverse the decision immediately but offered to discuss their argument with the other justices should they submit it in writing.

If the final hearing is held on or around February 24, expectations are high that the court will deliver its verdict before March 13, before the retirement date of the acting chief justice.

Justices finalize the proceedings over a period of 10-14 days before casting a vote to determine the president's fate. Her ouster requires the approval of at least six justices. There are currently eight following the retirement of Chief Justice Park Han-chul last month.

March 10 is seen as a likely date for the court's ruling, as it is the last week day before Lee's retirement.

If Park is removed from office, South Korea is required to hold a presidential by-election within 60 days. If she is reinstated, the election will be held in December as scheduled.

Earlier on Thursday, the court rejected a request by the special prosecutor's office to raid the presidential Blue House as part of the investigation.
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