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World

South Korea Welcomes 2017 With More Political Uncertainty

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

To South Korean now and the impeachment trial that could put an end to the presidency of Park Geun-hye. NPR's Elise Hu has the latest in this political drama.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: South Koreans welcomed the new year with more political uncertainty as the president refused to show up for her own impeachment trial. President Park Geun-hye is mired in abuse of power charges for giving a shadowy friend sweeping power in the government. Park is denying the corruption allegations against her - but only in the press.

PRESIDENT PARK GEUN-HYE: (Speaking Korean).

HU: "I can say for sure I didn't order anyone to do anything to give them advantages. That didn't even enter my head," Park said on Sunday.

The Korean National Assembly, last month, voted overwhelmingly to strip the president of her powers. An acting president is leading the country while a court takes up to six months to decide whether to actually remove Park from office. Chief Judge Park Han-chul opened the trial yesterday, saying the judges are aware the country is in crisis.

PARK HAN-CHUL: (Through interpreter) We will reach a decision in a fair and prompt manner after a thorough assessment of the case.

HU: The case is chaotic and confusing. It reaches almost every level of Korean society, most notably the conglomerates - like Samsung. The company has admitted to funding President Park's shadowy friend, even buying dressage horses for the friend's daughter.

CHUNG YOO-RA: (Speaking Korean).

HU: "Samsung bought the horses. I just rode them," daughter Chung Yoo-ra told a judge. She could now also face charges in the swirling scandal. If it does bring down President Park, Park would be the first democratically elected leader of South Korea to be removed from office.

Elise Hu, NPR News, Seoul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.