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(3rd LD) Park apologizes for suffering caused by late father's rule

All Headlines 19:08 September 24, 2012

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 21-24; ADDS with analysis from pollster from para 30)

SEOUL, Sept. 24 (Yonhap) -- The ruling Saenuri Party's presidential hopeful Park Geun-hye on Monday expressed remorse and apologized to all those who suffered under her late father's rule, a move aimed to shed the historic baggage that has plagued her campaign.

In a news conference held at the party headquarters in Seoul, the 60-year-old candidate said the 1961 military coup that brought her father to power; the 1972 Yushin Constitution, which effectively allowed late President Park Chung-hee to stay in power indefinitely and suppressed dissent; and the Inhyukdang incident that resulted in the execution of eight people, all delayed South Korea's political development and hurt the value of its Constitution.

"In the shadows of South Korea's rapid growth there was pain, suffering and irregularities as well as various human rights abuses committed by authorities," she said, adding that in politics the means cannot justify the outcome and that this view was valid not only in the past but for the future.

Park said that it is not easy for a daughter to publicly point out the shortcomings of a parent in South Korea, but made clear she is now a presidential candidate who needs to share the views on the country's history with ordinary people.

"I deeply apologize to all those who were personally hurt and family members of victims of government abuse," she said.

The five-term lawmaker, who became the first woman to win a presidential nomination from a major South Korean political party on Aug. 20, sparked criticism earlier this month by claiming there were "two verdicts" over the execution of eight anti-government demonstrators in the Inhyukdang case of 1975.

The eight were cleared of all charges in 2007, after a court ruled they had been tortured into making false confessions about trying to rebuild the disbanded pro-communist group Inhyukdang, or the People's Revolutionary Party, in violation of the anti-Communist act.

The Saenuri candidate, in addition, sparked an uproar in July by saying her father made "the best choice in an unavoidable situation" in reference to the military coup.

Park said at the press conference that as a presidential candidate she will do her utmost to cure the pain and suffering, and proposed the creation of a nationwide unity committee that can examine all historical events in a fair and impartial manner.

The Saenuri hopeful said that although it may take time she would like to meet people who suffered under her father's rule and try to alleviate the pain they experienced. She added that now is the time to look forward instead of dwelling on the past, and seek unity instead of fueling division.

Her remarks are seen as the most forthright admission of her father's faults since she started her political career more than 15 years ago, and a move to change her historical perspective.

In the past, she made several apologies but had skirted direct criticism about President Park, and generally deferred judgment by calling on history to evaluate his 18-year rule.

Political pundits said the change in her stance comes as polls started showing her trailing independent candidate Ahn Cheol-soo and even Rep. Moon Jae-in, a contender from the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP).

In a poll conducted by World Research over the weekend, Ahn, a computer software entrepreneur-turned-candidate and founder of Ahnlab, received 49.9 percent of support in a hypothetical two-way race with Park, who got 45.1 percent. In a race with Moon, Park was effectively tied by getting 47.5 percent approval rating vis-a-vis 47.2 percent for her opponent.

Another survey conducted by Media Research showed Park 8.7 percentage points behind Ahn who got a 49.9 percent approval rating, and even trailed Moon 45.9 percent to 45.0 percent.

The numbers are not good for the Saenuri candidate with less than three months to go before people cast their votes to pick the country's next chief executive on Dec. 19.

Related to the apology, Saenuri Party officials such as Reps. Cho Hae-jin and Kim Yong-tae, who held critical views about the candidate in the past, said the extent of the apology was more detailed and comprehensive than expected.

They said it was a difficult decision for her to make but a positive move.

"The remarks could alienate some of Park's staunch supporters, but it is a sign that she is willing to reflect the views of the public on this issue," Cho said.

Her rival candidates Moon and Ahn were in agreement that Park took a much delayed, but correct action, although the DUP candidate stressed the need for follow-up measures to show her sincerity.

Moon, a human rights lawyer-turned-politician, said he welcomed the belated apology.

He said the apology should be the start of meaningful national unity that could lead to the resolution of other contentious issues such as how to handle the Jeongsu Scholarship Foundation that was founded by Park's father, and the mystery surrounding the death of Chang Joon-ha, one of South Korea's best-known dissidents who was found dead on a mountain in 1975.

Rep. Woo Sang-ho, Moon's spokesman, said the important thing is to see if Park takes the next step to follow her words with actions. He hinted that compensation for past suffering and playing a role in restoring their honor could be signs of her sincerity.

The DUP said it wants to pass a parliamentary resolution that nullifies the Yushin Constitution altogether and called on Park to play a role in such as monumental step.

Ahn, on the other hand, acknowledged that making an apology would not have been easy.

"It is time that (everyone) learn from the past and move toward a new future," he told reporters.

Meanwhile, families of the Inhyukdang victims claimed Park's remorse was contrived and lacked sincerity.

"She should have made the remarks from the outset, but now it looks as if she is bowing to pressure and taking steps to extricate herself from a difficult situation," a wife of one of those executed said.

The remark is a sign that Park may have a hard time trying to meet the families of victims as part of her national unity campaign.

A local pollster told Yonhap News Agency after the apology was made that Park's change in stance toward her father's faults should help arrest the slide in approval ratings that began around the middle of this month.

"There is a chance that the apology will allow those that are passive supporters of the conservative presidential hopeful to rally behind her again and push up the approval numbers to some extent," said RealMeter president Lee Taek-soo.

He added for Park to make a true comeback, it is important that she selects an appropriate chairperson for the nationwide unity committee, because this could send a sign she is serious about atoning for past wrongs.

Lee said that with Park's formal expression of remorse, the present three-way race will heat up with all candidates vying to win the favor of voters.

yonngong@yna.co.kr
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