Park Geun-hye has become the first democratically elected South Korean president to be forced from office, after the country's constitutional court upheld a parliamentary vote to impeach her over a corruption and cronyism scandal that could see her face criminal charges.
South Korea now has 60 days to elect a new leader after the court's eight justices unanimously supported the impeachment motion, passed overwhelmingly in December by the national assembly, which accused Park of extortion, bribery, abuse of power and leaking government secrets.
The ruling, delivered live on television on Friday morning amid tight security in the streets outside the constitutional court building in Seoul, will see Park immediately forfeit the executive immunity to criminal indictment she enjoyed as president.
It also brings an abrupt and ignominious end to her four years in office.
The scandal has ensnared senior government officials and business figures, including Lee Jae-yong, the acting head of Samsung, who denied bribery, corruption and other charges at the first hearing in his trial on Thursday.
Park, whose family background and knack for winning elections propelled her to the presidential Blue House on a wave of public support in late 2012, will leave office almost a year shy of the end of her single five-year term.
While tens of thousands of Park loyalists have held demonstrations calling for her reinstatement in recent weeks – and vowing "civil war" if she were ousted – there are growing demands for legal action to be taken against tycoons from other South Korean companies caught up in the scandal, including Hyundai and Lotte.