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(profile) Park Geun-hye a woman of principle and trust
SEOUL, Dec. 19 (Yonhap) -- Park Geun-hye, the eldest daughter of the late former president, Park Chung-hee, will return to Cheong Wa Dae 33 years after she left the presidential office, this time as South Korea's first woman president.

   Park, who turns 61 in February, fought long and hard for her victory following her defeat to outgoing President Lee Myung-bak in a party primary ahead of the 2007 presidential election and an unexpected challenge from her liberal rivals in the last months of the race.

  


Her reputation as a politician who values principle and trust, and the actions she took to prove it, appeared to have strongly appealed to voters. After 15 years as a lawmaker in the National Assembly, Park is often credited with achieving a number of political feats, such as the construction of the central city of Sejong, which the Lee administration inherited from the previous liberal government and tried to cancel.

   The five-term lawmaker also led her conservative Saenuri Party through several crises in her capacity as party chairwoman or interim leader.

   Critics, however, take issue with her historical perspective surrounding her father's 18-year dictatorship and her apparent weakness in communicating both with people within the party and the general public.

   Born in 1952 as the eldest of three siblings, the president-elect moved into the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae in early 1964, shortly after her father took office following a military coup he staged in 1961. The Army general-turned-president has since been praised for achieving rapid industrialization and economic development in the aftermath of the 1950-53 Korean War, but also resented by critics for his brutal suppression of democracy.

   After spending her middle and high school years at Cheong Wa Dae, Park enrolled at Seoul's Sogang University in 1970 to study electronic engineering, which was an unusual major for women at that time.

   Following graduation, Park left for France in early 1974 to continue her studies, but returned home that August after her mother, Yook Young-su, was killed in a bungled assassination attempt on her father by a pro-Pyongyang ethnic-Korean man from Japan.

   In her autobiography, Park described the shock as a cold wind that felt as if a big hole had been made in her heart.

  


She spent the next five years serving as the acting first lady until her father was gunned down by his intelligence chief in 1979. According to her autobiography, Park was woken up in the middle of the night by the then presidential chief of staff, who informed her of her father's death.

   Her first words upon hearing the news were, "Is everything alright at the front line?," which was a reference to the inter-Korean border that resulted from the Korean War. The two Koreas are still in a technical state of war because that conflict ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

   Park spent the next 18 years out of the public eye, a period during which she has said she endured the betrayals of many of her father's close aides. She also devoted much of her time to reading books on history and philosophy, and visiting cultural heritage sites across the country in an effort to broaden her perspective.

   Her re-entry into political life came much later, in 1997, when she joined the Grand National Party (GNP), the predecessor of the Saenuri Party, and supported the campaign of then presidential candidate Lee Hoi-chang.

   The following April, she won a legislative seat in her hometown of Daegu and soon rose to the top ranks of her party.

   When her demands for political reform were rejected by the party in 2001, she defected to form a new party. It was during that time, in May 2002, that she visited North Korea and met with then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

   Park later rejoined the GNP after many of her earlier reform demands were met, and went on to prove her leadership ability with a series of upset victories in parliamentary elections, earning her the nickname, "queen of elections."

   The president-elect has said she respects her father the most out of all politicians because he loved his country more than anyone and stuck to his principles as a leader.

   As a single woman who has never married, Park has also said she is married to her country and pledged to think only about the people's happiness.

   The South Korean people have now given her a chance to do just that, with many hoping she will achieve the "grand national unity" she has promised by coming to terms with the controversial legacy left behind by her father and healing the wounds of those who suffered under his rule.

   hague@yna.co.kr
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