Park leaves Blue House, saying sorry for early exit

South Korea's ousted President Park leaves the Blue House and moves to a private home in Seoul two days after the constitutional court upheld the decision to impeach her over an influence-peddling scandal.
Ms Park (above, centre) arriving at her private residence (left) in the upscale Gangnam district in southern Seoul yesterday. In the public's first glimpse of her since her impeachment, she greeted former aides and political allies in front of her ho
Ms Park (above, centre) arriving at her private residence in the upscale Gangnam district in southern Seoul yesterday. In the public's first glimpse of her since her impeachment, she greeted former aides and political allies in front of her home as hundreds of supporters crowded the street and shouted messages of encouragement.PHOTO: REUTERS
Ms Park (above, centre) arriving at her private residence (left) in the upscale Gangnam district in southern Seoul yesterday. In the public's first glimpse of her since her impeachment, she greeted former aides and political allies in front of her ho
Ms Park arriving at her private residence (above) in the upscale Gangnam district in southern Seoul yesterday. In the public's first glimpse of her since her impeachment, she greeted former aides and political allies in front of her home as hundreds of supporters crowded the street and shouted messages of encouragement.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

She accepts responsibility for events leading to ruling on impeachment; supporters throng street outside her home

SEOUL • Impeached South Korean leader Park Geun Hye left the presidential Blue House yesterday, two days after a court dismissed her over a corruption scandal, facing life as a private citizen and the possibility of jail.

In her first public comments since her dismissal last Friday, she said in a statement: "I feel sorry that I could not finish the mandate given to me as president. It will take time, but I believe the truth will be revealed."

The statement was read out by her former spokesman Min Kyung Wook after she arrived at her private residence in the upscale Gangnam district in southern Seoul.

She said she accepted responsibility for the events that culminated in the Constitutional Court upholding a parliamentary impeachment vote over an influence-peddling scandal that has shaken the political and business elite.

Ms Park, 65, is South Korea's first democratically elected leader to be forced out of office.

A snap presidential election will be held by May 9. Her dismissal followed months of political paralysis and turmoil over the scandal that also landed the head of the country's biggest conglomerate Samsung in jail and facing trial.

Now, having lost presidential immunity, Ms Park could face criminal charges over bribery, extortion and abuse of power in connection with allegations of conspiring with her friend, Choi Soon Sil. Both women have denied wrongdoing.

The crisis has coincided with rising tension with North Korea and anger from China over the deployment in South Korea of a United States missile defence system.

Throngs of flag-waving supporters crowded the street outside Ms Park's home as she arrived there about 30 minutes after leaving the presidential palace.

She waved through her car's tinted window as it inched its way down the street, with security men in suits walking alongside. She stepped out smiling, in the public's first glimpse of her since her dismissal, and greeted supporters.

Ms Park's ouster marked a dramatic fall from grace for South Korea's first woman president and the daughter of late military strongman Park Chung Hee.

Yesterday was not the first time she has had to leave the Blue House. In 1979, after a nine-day funeral following the assassination of her father, a young Ms Park left the Blue House with her siblings for a family home.

Hundreds of her supporters yesterday waited for her arrival outside the home she lived in from 1990 to 2013. A smiling Ms Park shook hands and exchanged greetings with her former aides and political allies in front of her home, as her followers shouted messages of encouragement.

"The communist opposition manipulated the media and bribed the court so that they kicked out President Park and grasped power," shouted one of her supporters, most of whom were well advanced in age.

Some of her supporters attempted to cross the police line outside her home, shouting: "We love you, President Park Geun Hye, don't lose courage!"

Last Friday, two of Ms Park's supporters died as they tried to break through police lines outside the court, shortly after the verdict. One was believed to have had a heart attack, while the other died as supporters attacked police buses.

A third supporter, a 74-year-old man, suffered a heart attack and died last Saturday.

Ms Park's dismissal has exposed fault lines in a society long divided by Cold War politics.

Thousands of anti-Park protesters celebrated in Seoul last Saturday, where they had been gathering every weekend for months, and demanded that she be arrested for her role in the scandal.

The former president's conservative supporters also took to the streets not far away, though they were fewer in number.

Mr Moon Jae In, the liberal politician who is likely to become the next president, yesterday called on the country to set aside divisions, and stressed that true national unity does not mean "covering up deep- rooted evils".

In his first press conference since the verdict, he urged Ms Park to accept the ruling, and said that the investigation into the former leader should proceed promptly.

REUTERS, KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 13, 2017, with the headline 'Park leaves Blue House, saying sorry for early exit'. Print Edition | Subscribe