January 2, 2024

South Korean opposition leader stabbed in neck

South Korean opposition leader stabbed in neck

South Korea’s main opposition party leader, Lee Jae-myung was stabbed in the neck by a man, during his visit to the southern city of Busan on Tuesday.

The party officials said the attack was bloodied but he was conscious, when he was on tour to the construction site of the Gadeokdo New Airport, CNN reported.

Lee was stabbed while he was talking to journalists leaving him with a 1-centimeter laceration on the left side of his neck, Democratic Party spokesperson Kwon Chil-seung said.

He suffered “suspected damage to his jugular vein” and doctors were concerned he may have additional bleeding, Kwon said, citing doctors.

“He will quickly undergo a surgery” at the Seoul National University Hospital, after having been transferred there from Busan, the spokesperson said, describing the attempt on Lee’s life as an act of “terrorism” and “a serious threat to democracy.”

Earlier in the day Democratic Party’s floor leader Hong Ik-pyo said Lee was “in a conscious state” in hospital.

The assailant, who was arrested at the scene, is a man in his sixties, according to Busan police. He approached Lee for an autograph before carrying out the attack with an 18 cm (7 inch) long knife purchased online, the police said in a briefing.

Footage of the brazen attack, captured on live television at the press conference, showed an unidentified man at the front of the crowd suddenly lunging at Lee and striking him in the neck, sending Lee collapsing backwards.

The attacker was then wrestled to the ground and restrained by several people.

Photos showed Lee lying on the floor with his eyes shut and a handkerchief pressed against his neck. Small amounts of blood were visible in some of the photos.

South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol expressed “deep concern” for Lee’s safety after the attack, according to the presidential office.

Yoon emphasised such violence “should not be tolerated under any circumstances” and ordered the police to swiftly investigate, the office said.

Democratic Party floor leader Hong called for party members to remain calm and refrain from making political interpretations of the incident.

Meanwhile, outside the Seoul National University Hospital, a small crowd gathered amid heavy police presence on Tuesday afternoon as the ambulance carrying Lee arrived. One supporter shouted: “Lee Jae-myung, be strong!”

In a statement, South Korea’s national police agency pledged to strengthen personal protection for “key personnel” to prevent similar cases from happening.

South Korea’s politics have been riven by deep polarization between conservative and liberal sides, particularly in recent years which saw former President Park Geun-hye jailed on abuse of power and bribery charges before being pardoned and released in 2021.

Lee, 59, a liberal former provincial governor, narrowly lost to Yoon of the conservative People Power Party in the presidential election in March 2022.

Lee became the leader of the Democratic Party five months later and has been gearing up his party for the parliamentary elections in April.