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SEOUL — South Korea's parliament voted overwhelmingly to impeach President Park Geun-hye on Friday after a huge political scandal involving a childhood friend and confidant left her isolated and loathed.
Park was officially stripped of her powers just after 7 p.m. local time (5 a.m. ET), and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn took over as acting president.
"I stand here with grave and sad heart and feel deeply responsible for what's happening now and I am very sorry," said Hwang said. "We cannot allow any gap in the governance and I am going to do my very best to restore stability."
For more than a month, hundreds of thousands of South Koreans have spilled onto the streets each Saturday to protest Park's relationship with Choi Soon-sil who is accused of massive influence peddling.
Prosecutors say the 64-year-old colluded in Choi's criminal activities to manipulate government affairs and extort businesses. Choi is the daughter of late cult leader Choi Tae-min, who himself befriended Park as a young woman after saying her assassinated mother had appeared in his dreams.
The allegations have plunged the world's 11th biggest economy into an unprecedented crisis and exposed a series of bizarre revelations — including the mass government purchase of erectile dysfunction medication, Viagra.
Friday's vote count was 234 for the motion and 56 against with nine abstained or nullified. Park officially remains president while the country's Constitutional Court deliberates the decision, which could take up to 180 days.
President Park responded Friday's developments during a nationally televised cabinet meeting, saying she was sorry for having "caused so much chaos at the national level due to my lack of virtue and my mistakes."
"I honestly accept the voices of the parliament and the people very gravely and sincerely hope that the current chaos will be resolved," she said. "I will be calmly responding to the impeachment course."
Park, who has immunity from prosecution in the case as long as she remains in office, has denied wrongdoing but acknowledged carelessness in her ties with her friend, who has already been indicted.
Nam Jung-su, a spokesman for the Emergency People's Alliance to Oust Park Geun-hye, which was organizing the weekly protests of millions that have shaken the country, called for Park to step down immediately.
"This is what the people wanted and this is what the power of people has achieved, not the opposition politicians," he said.
"Now there is no more excuse for the president to sit there at the presidential office anymore and we want the president to step down right away. We also want her cabinet to resign right away," Nam said, promising that his group was organizing another demonstration for Friday night.