SEOUL South Korea's Constitutional Court will on Friday deliver a ruling on a parliamentary vote impeaching President Park Geun-hye which could oust her from office and see a snap election within 60 days.
If the court upholds parliament's Dec. 9 vote to impeach Park over an influence-peddling scandal, she will be the country's first democratically elected leader to be forced from power, and an election would likely be called for May.
The court will begin a hearing to deliver its ruling at 11 a.m. (0200 GMT)
The scandal has preoccupied the country for months, at a time when rival North Korea is pushing ahead with its missile programme and tension is brewing with China over a U.S. missile-defence system being deployed in South Korea.
Park, 65, has been accused of colluding with a friend, Choi Soon-sil, and a former presidential aide, both of whom have been on trial, to pressure big businesses to donate to two foundations set up to back her policy initiatives.
She is also accused of soliciting bribes from the head of the Samsung Group for government favours including the backing of a merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015 that was seen to support the succession of control over the country's largest "chaebol" conglomerate.
Park has denied any wrongdoing. She cannot be prosecuted while she remains president.
After weeks of deliberations and hearings, members of the eight-judge team arrived at the central Seoul court early on Friday. The did not speak to reporters.
Park was stripped of her powers after the Dec. 9 vote but has remained in the president's official compound, the Blue House. She was not expected to appear in court.
The scandal has led to weekly protests by tens of thousands of people, not only those who want Park to step down but also her supporters calling for her to stay on in power.
Both opponents and supporters gathered outside the court on Friday.
"A historic verdict on impeachment will be handed down," Choo Mi-ae, head of the opposition Democratic Party, told a party meeting.
"Even if she's president, she should take responsibility if she did something wrong," said Kwon Seon-dong, a member of parliament who supported the impeachment vote told reporters at the court.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Robert Birsel, Michael Perry)