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Lee Jae-myung (speaking) moments before he was stabbed in Busan, South Korea. Alamy
Lee Jae-myung

South Korean opposition leader stabbed in neck

The wound was not life-threatening according to local media.

SOUTH KOREAN OPPOSITION party leader Lee Jae-myung was stabbed in the neck with a knife by a man who pushed through a crowd pretending to be his supporter, police said.

The wound was not life-threatening, local media reported, after Lee was attacked at a construction site in the southern port city of Busan.

He was surrounded by journalists when a man lunged and struck him on the left side of his neck, Busan police official Son Je-han said at a press briefing.

The assailant, a man in his 60s, “used an 18-centimetre knife – its blade is 13 centimetres long – which he purchased online” Son told reporters.

Police were seen wrestling the suspect, who displayed a pro-Lee slogan, to the ground. The man was arrested at the scene. His motive is “being investigated”, Son said.

The 59-year-old Lee was “walking to his car while talking to reporters when the attacker asked for his autograph”, a witness told local broadcaster YTN.

In TV footage, Lee was seen collapsing to the ground as people rushed to aid him after the attack.

One man was seen pressing a handkerchief on Lee’s neck before emergency responders carried him to an ambulance.

Lee was bleeding but conscious as he was rushed to a local university hospital, the Yonhap news agency reported, before being flown to the capital Seoul for surgery, according to an official from his party.

south-korean-opposition-leader-lee-jae-myung-is-transported-on-a-stretcher-to-a-hospital-at-a-heliport-in-seoul-south-korea-tuesday-jan-2-2024-lee-was-stabbed-in-the-neck-by-an-unidentified-kni Lee Jae-myung being transported to hospital soon after the attack. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

“This is an act of terror against Lee and a serious threat to democracy that should never occur under any circumstances,” Kwon Chil-seung, an MP from Lee’s Democratic Party, told reporters outside the hospital in Busan.

Yonhap earlier reported, citing fire department officials, that Lee suffered a one-centimetre laceration in the attack.

It cited a hospital official as saying it was “fortunate that the damaged area is the jugular vein” and not the carotid artery.

Several high-profile South Korean politicians have been attacked in public in the past.

An elderly man hit Song Young-gil, who led the Democratic Party before Lee, in the head with a blunt object in 2022.

In 2006, Park Geun-hye, then the leader of the conservative party who later became president, was assaulted with a knife at a rally. The attack left a scar on her face.

Presidential contender

Lee lost in 2022 to conservative Yoon Suk Yeol in the tightest presidential race in South Korea’s history.

Yoon expressed “deep concern over the safety of Lee Jae-myung upon hearing of the attack”, his spokeswoman Kim Soo-kyung said.

“Yoon emphasised our society should never tolerate this kind of act of violence under any circumstances.”

A former child factory worker who suffered an industrial accident as a teenage school drop-out, Lee rose to political stardom partly by playing up his rags-to-riches tale.

He is widely expected to run for president again in 2027, and recent polls have indicated that he remains a strong contender.

But Lee’s bid for the top office has been overshadowed by a string of scandals.

He avoided arrest in September when a court dismissed a request from the prosecution for him to be taken into custody pending trial on various corruption charges.

Lee still faces trial on charges of bribery in connection with a firm that is suspected of illicitly transferring $8 million (€7.2 million) to North Korea.

He is also accused of breaching his duties, allegedly resulting in a loss of 20 billion won (€13.2 million) for a company owned by Seongnam city during his term as its mayor.

Lee has denied all allegations against him.

In August last year, he launched a hunger strike against what he called the Yoon government’s “incompetent and violent” policies.

He was hospitalised because of fasting-related ailments after not eating for 19 days.

© AFP 2024