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(News Focus) Political bickering intensifies over Park's defense of father's legacy
SEOUL, Sept. 14 (Yonhap) -- The ruling party's presidential candidate, Park Geun-hye, opened a can of worms Monday with 100 days left to go before December's election, by claiming there had been two contradicting verdicts over the execution of eight activists during her father Park Chung-hee's rule.

   The comments rubbed salt into the wounds of survivors and family members of the victims, sparked fury in the opposition camp and drew condemnation from progressive groups.

   In an attempt to quell the firestorm, the ruling Saenuri Party offered an apology, but that was later disowned by the candidate herself.

   The confusion provided fertile ground for an all-out attack by the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP), many of whose leaders experienced the oppression of the Park Chung-hee regime firsthand.

   Park's father took power in a military coup in 1961 and ruled the country with an iron fist for 18 years until he was gunned down by his intelligence chief in 1979. Assessment of that period remains divided between those who hail his accomplishments in achieving rapid industrialization in the aftermath of the 1950-53 Korean War, and those who resent his brutal crackdowns on any form of dissent.

Park Geun-hye (Yonhap file photo)

Park Geun-hye, the first South Korean woman to run for president as a candidate of a major party, has widely been regarded as a beneficiary of that political legacy as many of her supporters are known to cherish the memories of her father.

   This week, however, it was the other side of that double-edged sword that came back to haunt the conservative politician.

   The controversy centers on the infamous "Inhyeokdang" incident, in which eight alleged members of "Inhyeokdang," or the People's Revolution Party, were executed in 1975 and 13 others sentenced to up to life imprisonment on charges of violating the harsh anti-Communist law that was in force at the time.

   The victims were mostly university students who opposed the dictatorship of then President Park, and the widespread belief is that the government made up the charges to crack down on anti-government activities.

   In 2007, under a liberal administration, the Seoul Central District Court cleared the eight execution victims, ruling they had been tortured into making false confessions. The government was ordered to give hefty compensation to the families of those wrongly incriminated in the case.

   Park's reference to the "two verdicts" was seen by the opposition camp not only as a denial of her father's wrongdoing but also as ignorance of the country's judicial system, which invalidates an earlier verdict upon a new ruling.

   Asked by reporters Thursday if she has plans to meet with and apologize to the victims' families, Park said, "(I) will meet them if they agree."

   "I have said many times in the past that I am deeply sorry and offer my consolation to those who suffered at that time," she added.

   The victims' families released a statement saying they will decide on whether to meet with Park after she clarifies her position on the Supreme Court's 1975 ruling and other legacies of her father's rule.

   On Friday, DUP leaders continued their political offensive as they took issue with Park's latest remarks.

   "What an arrogant thing to say," DUP floor leader Park Jie-won said at a Supreme Council meeting, referring to Park expressing her willingness to meet with the victims' families upon their consent.

   "The (correct) sequence would be to offer a sincere apology, make remarks rectifying history, and then meet with the victims' families," he said. "The people and history will not tolerate (Park) denying history and trying to restore her father's honor by glorifying the (1961) coup, the Yushin Constitution and the Inhyeokdang incident."

DUP floor leader Park Jie-won (R) addresses a party meeting in Seoul on Sept. 14, 2012. (Yonhap)

The late president adopted the Yushin Constitution in 1972, which effectively allowed him to extend his rule indefinitely.

   The DUP's Rep. Choo Mi-ae echoed the floor leader's views, saying the ongoing criticism was not simply an effort to demand responsibility from a daughter for the actions of her father.

   "(Park) has said that she discussed state affairs with her father after the death of first lady Yook Young-su," she said. "That means that she wasn't an onlooker but at the apex of the Yushin government and controlled state affairs behind closed doors together with the supreme ruler of Yushin, Park Chung-hee."

   The presidential candidate served as the acting first lady for five years until her father's death, after her mother was killed in a bungled assassination attempt on the late president.

   Park, 60, has come under fire in the past for defending her father's authoritarian rule.

   In July, she said her father made "the best choice in an unavoidable situation" in reference to the 1961 military coup, while in 2007, she described it as a revolution to save the country.