South Korea’s Park Hee-won: Former dictator’s widow ‘sorry’

Image copyright AFP Image caption Former state president Park Geun-hye resigned in March 2017

The widow of former South Korean dictator Park Geun-hye has apologised over her “mistakes” and acknowledged “violence” during her husband’s rule.

In her first public statement since her arrest in March 2017, Lee Hee-won described the 1990s rule by her late husband as “one of the most difficult and traumatic periods in our lives”.

Her husband Park Chung-hee, who died in 1979, ruled with an iron grip until his assassination in 1994.

Speaking outside her home in the southern city of Incheon, she told reporters: “I apologise to the nation for my mistakes.”

“I wish for peace.”

The BBC’s Mike Keegan in Seoul says South Korea is divided over the fate of Park Hee-won.

The mainstream media is overwhelmingly supportive of her, but the ruling conservative party has pointed out that Park Hee-won was jailed during her husband’s rule, and supporters of the opposition have begun a “Park Hee-won Dignity Movement” for her freedom.

“She is being used as a pawn by those who wanted her ousted and then reassigned to the floor of parliament to lay the foundation for impeachment of President Moon Jae-in,” says our correspondent.

“The country’s debate has now shifted towards her’s actions to cover up her husband’s crimes.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Park Geun-hye says she “deeply regrets” those deaths

Her family told the Korean Times that at the time of Park’s death, her elder daughter Park Su-hyeon was studying abroad, and her youngest daughter Lee Yeon-hee was “in a college dormitory”.

Park Ji-hyeon, the president’s daughter, had graduated from the university in November 2012 and already graduated with a degree in management.

“Before this news about Park Hee-won emerged, she had not watched one TV news report related to her father’s former time in power,” Park Ji-hyeon told the paper.

Park Hee-won was arrested last week after she was convicted of coercion for intervening in an investigation into the daughter’s alleged role in a corruption scandal that sparked nationwide protests.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Park Hee-won married Park Chung-hee when she was still a teenager and served in his administration from 1970-1974

A local court sentenced her to five years in prison.

The presidential Blue House has declined to comment on the trial.

At a recent rally against the government, protesters raised banners saying: “Free Park Hee-won.”

Lee Hee-won blamed “the countless losses” that people suffered during her husband’s regime on “thousands of Korean companies in terms of [its] corruption and mismanagement” of the economy.

“The Park Geun-hye Foundation has worked to heal the troubled hearts of the parents of our martyr martyrs.”

Image copyright AFP Image caption Lee Hee-won was imprisoned during her husband’s rule, but was later released

Park’s daughter and her husband are both under investigation over an influence-peddling scandal that led to Mr Moon’s impeachment last year.

In January this year, Ms Park’s younger sister was sentenced to three years in prison for her role in orchestrating a smear campaign against the president.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in on Monday apologised to the “citizenry” on his Facebook page.

“I deeply regret the loss of your lives in the process of a ruling where innocent lives are at stake,” he wrote.

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