JOHANNESBURG - South African Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius on Friday broke his months-long silence about the shooting of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, calling her death at his hands a year ago a "devastating accident".
Pistorius, who goes on trial on March 3, says he shot Steenkamp after mistaking her for an intruder at his high-security home last Valentine's Day. State lawyers say he killed her in cold blood.
"No words can adequately capture my feelings about the devastating accident that has caused such heartache for everyone who truly loved, and continues to love, Reeva," Pistorius said in a brief statement posted on his website.
"The loss of Reeva and the complete trauma of that day, I will carry with me for the rest of my life," said the athlete, who is on bail but could face life in prison if convicted.
The 27-year-old double-amputee, known as "Blade Runner" for the prostheses he wears in competition, was one of South Africa's most revered sportsmen but his shooting of Steenkamp has divided national opinion on whether it was premeditated.
It has also highlighted South Africa's high rate of violent attacks on women, including rape, which rights groups say are often perpetrated by partners or other people known to them.
On Friday, the women's league of the ruling ANC party led a march in the capital Pretoria to commemorate Steenkamp's death, with many participants holding up posters denouncing violence against women. "Pistorius must rot in jail," one poster read.
In a statement, the league said its march was intended to make communities aware of the "barbaric conduct against women and children" in the country.
Private news channel eNCA ran an anniversary documentary in which Steenkamp's friends and family recounted how the law graduate turned model was vocal about such issues.
Police say 107 witnesses are expected to testify for the prosecution in Pistorius's trial. The state's case is that he intended to kill Steenkamp when he shot her in the head, arm and hip.
Last October, prosecutors said the Paralympic medallist, who also competed in the 2012 Olympics, would face two additional gun-related charges related to prior incidents in which he allegedly fired a gun in a public space.