Pardoned ex-president Park returns home after leaving hospital in South Korea

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Three months after being pardoned for one of South Korea’s worst government corruption scandals, former President Park Geun-hye returned home Thursday after being released from a hospital.

She slowly walked out of the Samsung Medical Center in Seoul as cameras flashed and dozens of fans shouted, “Park Geun-hye! President!”

“I extend my greetings to our people for the first time in five years. My health has really improved, thanks to your concerns,” Park said. She thanked the medical staff at the hospital and got into a black sedan without answering any questions.

She then stopped at a cemetery and offered flowers and incense at the grave of her father, slain military dictator Park Chung-hee, and bowed silently in tribute.

Hours later, a crowd of thousands waving national flags and balloons chanted his name amid a heavy police presence as Park arrived at his high-walled residence in his southern hometown of Daegu, where supporters covered a path near her home with hundreds of crowns. Some held up banners with photos of Park and his father and signs claiming his innocence or wishing him happiness.

As she got out of the car, Park smiled broadly through her COVID-19 mask and hugged a child who presented her with flowers. She then walked to a microphone stand outside her door to deliver a message thanking her supporters. His speech was briefly interrupted when someone from the crowd threw what appeared to be a bottle which shattered as it landed nearby, prompting bodyguards to surround him and raise screens.

“The past five years have been a very difficult time for me to bear,” Park said before thanking her neighbors in Dalseong County in Daegu, where she was elected as an MP four times from 1998 to 2008.

Park said she hopes to make unspecified contributions, “however small,” to help the country, but made no specific mention of plans to get involved in politics again.

“While I was president, I tried to work for our nation and our people, but I couldn’t achieve many of my dreams. Those dreams are now in the hands of others,” Park said.

Park was ousted from office and jailed for bribery and other crimes in 2017 in a stunning fall from grace. She described herself as a victim of political revenge and refused to attend most of her trials.

Conservatives, initially left in disarray by his downfall, rebounded to narrowly win this month’s presidential election, but only after fielding a candidate who helped send him to jail.

President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol was part of a special investigation team that indicted Park in 2017 for bribery, abuse of power and extortion, which established her as the central figure in an influence-peddling scandal also involving a dark confidante and a Samsung billionaire. heir.

Some of Park’s supporters at the hospital expressed their anger towards Yoon when she was released, shouting that he was a “traitor” and a “treacherous criminal”, but there was no major fight with him. the police.

Yoon, who takes office on May 10, told reporters he wants Park to recover quickly from his health issues and hopes to visit him in Daegu soon. When asked if he planned to invite Park to his inauguration ceremony, Yoon replied, “You’re supposed to invite all the former presidents, so of course.”

Park had served less than a quarter of his 22-year sentence before Moon pardoned him in December, citing his health issues and the need to promote unity in the face of pandemic hardship.

She had been treated in Seoul Hospital since November. Officials declined to give details about Park’s health, but local media said she suffered from a lumbar disc problem, a shoulder injury and dental issues as well as mental stress.

Park was once the darling of conservatives in South Korea, who celebrate her father as a hero whose industrial policies lifted the country out of postwar poverty despite its brutal crackdown on human rights. She was elected its first female president in 2012, beating Moon by a million votes.

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