S Korea’s disgraced ex-president Park freed after nearly 5 years in prison

Park, 69, was the country’s first
democratically elected leader to be thrown out of office when the
Constitutional Court upheld a parliament vote in 2017 to impeach her over a
scandal that also led to the imprisonment of the chiefs of two conglomerates,
Samsung and Lotte.

South Korea’s top court in January upheld a
20-year prison sentence imposed after Park was found guilty of colluding with a
friend, who is also in jail, to receive tens of billions of won from the
companies, mostly to fund her friend’s family and non-profit foundations.

President Moon Jae-in granted a special pardon
to Park last week, citing her deteriorating health and expressing hope to
“overcome unfortunate past history and promote national unity”.

Broadcasters showed Park leaving a Seoul
hospital, where she had stayed since last month for medical treatment, after
correction officials delivered a letter of pardon at midnight.

She did not comment but her lawyer has said
Park, the daughter of a former military ruler, had offered an apology for
causing public concern and thanked Moon for making a “tough

Park’s release comes as her old party, the
main opposition conservative People Power Party, and Moon’s Democratic Party
are in a tight presidential race.

Her imprisonment divided the country, with
right-wing, pro-Park groups staging weekly rallies to denounce Moon and his
policies and call for Park’s release, until COVID-19 distancing rules stifled
the rallies last year.

Hundreds of Park’s supporters braved freezing
temperatures to flock to the hospital where she was staying late on Thursday to
celebrate her release, with more than 1,000 bouquets of flowers arriving.

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About 200 people held a protest in downtown
Seoul against her release, the Yonhap news agency reported.

It was not clear if Park would resume any
political activity but she said in a memoir released on Thursday that her
conviction was politically motivated and she expressed hopes to “meet the
people again one day”.

People Power’s presidential candidate Yoon
Suk-yeol, who investigated the Park scandal as prosecutor-general, said on
Friday he had done his job as a public servant, adding he would like to visit
Park when her health improved.

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