The ruling party candidate in South Korea's presidential election offered her "sincere apologies" to victims of the repressive rule of her late father, military strongman Park Chung-Hee.

"I believe that it is an unchanging value of democracy that ends cannot justify the means in politics," Park Geun-Hye said on Monday in a 10-minute speech to reporters broadcast live from her conservative New Frontier Party headquarters.

Park's campaign to become South Korea's first woman president has been plagued by repeated demands to clarify her stance on the excesses of her father's 18-year rule, a deeply divisive and emotive topic for many Koreans.

Her previously ambiguous responses have eaten away at the 60-year-old's significant opinion poll lead over her two left-leaning rivals - Moon Jae-In and Ahn Cheol-Soo - in the December 19 ballot.

Monday's speech had been promoted by her campaign team as an effort to finally set the record straight on her father, who seized power in a 1961 military coup and ruled with an iron hand until his assassination in 1979.

Declining to take questions, Park offered her "sincere apologies to those who suffered and were wounded during this period, and to their families."

Park Chung-Hee is credited with laying the foundations for South Korea's economic rise, and admirers say his autocratic style was justified by the poverty, security issues and social divisions existing after the 1950-53 Korean War.

Critics paint him as a brutal dictator who ruthlessly crushed any opposition and set back the country's democratic development with a security apparatus that employed torture, false imprisonment and extra-judicial execution.

Source: AFP