LIMA (AFP) - Peru's ailing former leader Alberto Fujimori has asked the public for forgiveness, two days after receiving a presidential pardon that sparked street protests.
"I am aware that the results of my government were well received on one side, but I admit that I have let down other compatriots, and I ask them to forgive me with all my heart," Fujimori said in a Facebook video filmed from his hospital bed.
The 79-year-old had been serving a 25-year sentence for corruption and human rights abuses committed during his time in office from 1990 to 2000.
He was transferred from prison to a hospital on Saturday - the day before he was pardoned - after suffering from low blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat, the latest in a string of hospitalisations.
In the video, Fujimori lay propped up on a hospital bed wearing a white gown, with a blood pressure cuff on his right arm and another monitor clasped to his left index finger. He talked over the constant background beeping of a monitoring device.
He said the pardon "took me by surprise" and provoked "a mix of feelings - great joy and sorrow."
President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski ordered the pardon of Fujimori and seven other prisoners on Sunday (Dec 24) on humanitarian grounds, placing himself in the middle of a political crisis just days after he avoided impeachment.
The move set off street protests in Lima, and police fired tear gas and clashed with demonstrators who marched on Monday against the pardon and demanded Kuczynski step down.
The president defended his decision in a televised message to the nation.
"I am convinced that those of us who feel democratic should not allow Alberto Fujimori to die in prison, because justice is not revenge," Kuczynski said in his address on Monday night.
"It is about the health and chances of life of a former president of Peru who, having committed excesses and grave errors, was sentenced and has already completed 12 years" in prison, he said.
Many Peruvians believe a president convicted of human rights crimes and corruption should not be eligible for pardon.
Anti-riot police were deployed to prevent demonstrators from heading to the clinic where Fujimori is hospitalised.
"Get Out, Get Out PPK! Out, Get Out PPK!" demonstrators chanted in reference to the current president, who had promised during his electoral campaign last year that he would not free Fujimori.
"Fujimori, murderer and thief. No to the pardon!" read a sign held by the protesters, some of whom also carried a giant Peruvian flag.
Relatives of victims of Fujimori's brutal rule took part in the march.
"We are here as relatives to reject this illegal pardon, because it does not correspond to the gravity of the crimes," Gisella Ortiz, from a group of victims' families, told reporters.
The pardon from Kuczynski came after Fujimori's son Kenji drained votes away from a parliamentary bid on Thursday to impeach Kuczynski on suspicion of corruption, sparking speculation the pardon was political.
"The president's word is totally devalued and he will not be supported again," political analyst Arturo Maldonado told El Comercio newspaper.
"Instead of reaffirming that in a state of law there is no special treatment for anyone, the idea that the release was a vulgar political deal in exchange for keeping Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in power - will remain forever."
The head of the UN human rights office for South America, Amerigo Incalcaterra, criticised the pardon as something "that marks a historic turning point for Peru and Latin America in terms of the fight against impunity."
Fujimori had been treated in intensive care at the Centenario Clinic. But on Tuesday, his doctor Alejandro Aguinaga told Agence France-Presse that "there is a favourable change" in his condition and he had left the intensive care unit.
"He is still not fully recovered. He can't yet leave" the hospital, Aguinaga said.
The former leader has spent more than a decade imprisoned for ruthlessly cracking down on political rivals and for ordering dozens of murders and overseeing other brutal tactics.
Despite his conviction for human rights abuses, Fujimori retains a level of popularity in Peru for having defeated the Maoist Shining Path guerrillas and for stabilising the economy after a period of crisis.
That dichotomy has come to the fore with the pardon: dozens of supporters have gathered in front of the hospital caring for him, while opponents demonstrated in Lima against him.
Fujimori's daughter Keiko, a congresswoman who was narrowly beaten to the presidency by Kuczynski in elections last year, hailed her father's pardon as "a great day for my family and for Fujimorists - finally my father is free."
And a lawyer for the jailed Shining Path leader, Abimael Guzman, now 83, sought to seize a potential opportunity for his client, who is serving life in prison on terror charges.
"He, too, was jailed for waging war domestically, and he, too, is ailing," Guzman's lawyer Alfredo Crespo told AFP.