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.