South Korean opposition leader stabbed in neck while talking to reporters

The 59-year-old was seen collapsing to the ground as people rushed to aid him

By AFP

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Photo: AP
Photo: AP

Published: Tue 2 Jan 2024, 7:35 AM

Last updated: Tue 2 Jan 2024, 3:01 PM

South Korean opposition party leader Lee Jae-myung was stabbed in the neck on Tuesday while talking to reporters in the port city of Busan.

Lee was walking in a crowd of journalists after visiting the site of a new airport when a man in front of him lunged and struck him in the neck, footage on South Korean television channels showed. The 59-year-old was seen collapsing to the ground as people rushed to aid him. One man was seen pressing a handkerchief on Lee's neck.

He was "walking to his car while talking to reporters when the attacker asked for his autograph", a witness told local broadcaster YTN, adding that Lee was then struck with what "looked like a knife".

Emergency responders were seen carrying Lee into an ambulance. He was later taken to hospital on a helicopter, according to the Yonhap news agency. The agency said he was bleeding but conscious as he was transported from the scene.

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Police in Busan said Lee suffered a "one-centimetre laceration on his neck" and that he "remains conscious and bleeding is minor", according to South Korean news outlet Chosun Ilbo.

TV footage showed police officials wrestling the attacker to the ground. He was seen wearing a hat with Lee's name on it. Yonhap said the assailant has been arrested.

Chief of the Democratic Party, 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 to North Korea. He is also accused of breaching his duties, allegedly resulting in a loss of 20 billion won ($15 million) for a company owned by Seongnam city during his term as its mayor.

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