Presidential candidate Park Geun-hye, daughter of the country’s former dictator Park Chung-hee, today apologized for rights abuses committed during her father's rule. Park, 60, who is the ruling party’s candidate, could become South Korea’s first female leader if she wins the election in December. She currently leads the other candidates in opinion polls. However since winning the party nomination last month, Park has been forced on the defensive over her interpretation of human rights abuses committed during her father’s regime of almost 20 years before his assassination in 1979 by his spy chief. Earlier this month Park sparked controversy by defending her father, saying that the 1961 coup in which he seized power and subsequent events that followed during his rule were inevitable at the time and should be judged "by history." Her father is credited with helping developing industrialization and the country’s economy, but is also remembered for crushing dissent and suppressing moves toward democracy. At a news conference today Park admitted that her father’s focus on national security and economic issues had resulted in human rights violations. Workers suffered “under a repressive labor environment," she acknowledged. "Behind the efforts for national security to protect [ourselves] from North Korea were human rights abuses committed by state power," she said. She also admitted to being wrong over one controversial incident where activists from a left-wing political party were executed. In 1974, eight members of the Inhyeokdang (People’s Revolutionary Party) were charged with inciting civil war and violating anti-communism laws. The Supreme Court sentenced them to death on April 8, 1975 and all were hanged the next day. The Seoul Central District Court ruled in 2007 that the eight were innocent and were victims of charges fabricated by Park Chung-hee’s regime. Park condemned the ruling when it was handed down, but today she backtracked by apologizing to the families of the executed activists. “It is an unswerving value of democracy that ends cannot justify the means in politics," she said, calling for national unity.