April 1, 2017 2:00 am JST

Fall from grace the latest twist in Park's tumultuous life

South Korean ex-leader is no stranger to adversity

HIROSHI MINEGISHI, Nikkei staff writer

SEOUL -- Under arrest after months of scandal that rocked the nation, ousted South Korean President Park Geun-hye could now face a lengthy list of charges. But this marks only the latest of the many troubles she has endured.

Park grew up in the Blue House presidential complex as a daughter of then-President Park Chung-hee, who led South Korea for 18 years through a period of spectacular economic growth called the "miracle on the Han River." She took on the role of first lady at age 22 after losing her mother to an assassin's bullet meant for her strongman father. Park Chung-hee was killed by his spy chief five years later, and she was driven out of the Blue House with her younger siblings.

Supporting her through the worst of times were religious leader Choi Tae-min and his daughter Choi Soon-sil. Former President Chun Doo-hwan, a close aide to Park Chung-hee, writes in a forthcoming memoir that he told the military to keep Choi Tae-min away from the late president's family so that he could not exploit them.

Park Geun-hye returned to the public eye a decade later. She defended the 1961 military coup that installed her father as a revolution to save the country and called for correcting what she deemed a distorted version of history. Seeing how the Asian currency crisis was hurting South Korea, Park decided to enter politics in her own right.

Her right cheek still bears a scar from a 2006 slashing carried out while she was giving a speech as the opposition leader. The repeated tragedies in Park's life touched the public's heart and revived support for her conservative party. Despite the paternalistic Confucian values permeating South Korean society, she was seen as a special woman and eventually became the nation's first female president.

Park's hard line on North Korea won the support of conservatives. But her political fortunes shifted with the 2014 sinking of the Sewol ferry.

In a 2007 memoir, Park vowed to make every effort to create a country filled with hope for South Korea's children. Many were supportive of her decision not to invite any family members to the Blue House as president. But that very isolation also caused her to lean heavily on Choi Soon-sil, the longtime friend at the heart of the scandal.

Her brother, Park Ji-man, was among the disgraced ex-president's many supporters who gathered around her residence in Seoul before her court appearance Thursday. The siblings are said to have shed tears during their roughly 10-minute reunion, from which Ji-man emerged with reddened eyes.

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