Stabbing of prominent Korean opposition politician shocks nation

Posted on : 2024-01-03 17:04 KST Modified on : 2024-01-03 17:16 KST
Lee Jae-myung, who serves as leader of the nation’s top opposition party, was stabbed while making an official appearance in Busan on Tuesday
Lee Jae-myung, the leader of South Korea’s top opposition Democratic Party, fell to the ground after being stabbed while on an official visit to Busan on Jan. 2. (Yonhap)
Lee Jae-myung, the leader of South Korea’s top opposition Democratic Party, fell to the ground after being stabbed while on an official visit to Busan on Jan. 2. (Yonhap)


The head of South Korea’s main opposition party, Lee Jae-myung, underwent emergency surgery after being stabbed while on an official visit to Busan on Tuesday. While Lee’s life isn’t in jeopardy, he will have to stay under observation for some time to ensure he remains stable, sources with his Democratic Party said.

There are fears that the stabbing of the head of Korea’s main opposition party in broad daylight constitutes a grave threat to the country’s democracy.

The Democratic Party chief was standing in front of the Daehang Observatory, near the planned site of an airport on Gadeok Island in Busan’s Gangseo District, at 10:29 am on Tuesday when he was approached by a 67-year-old identified by the surname Kim, who was posing as a supporter. Kim then stabbed Lee in the left side of the neck with a knife.

At the time of the attack, Lee was fielding questions from reporters while walking toward his van following a tour of the new airport site.

Kim had been loitering in front of the van wearing a blue paper headband in the shape of a crown. As Lee approached, Kim made his way through the reporters and asked for an autograph, while holding out a pen and a piece of paper. It was when Lee took the paper that Kim stuck him with a knife he had kept concealed in his pocket.

After being stabbed, Lee fell to the ground, holding his palm against the wound on his neck.

“We thought he was one of [Lee’s] supporters. He didn’t seem mentally disturbed and wasn’t acting suspicious, so nobody took much notice when he went up to Lee,” said a Democratic Party member who had watched the scene unfold.

Kim was subdued by party members and supporters right after the attack and then handed over to police officers who were on duty nearby.

After the stabbing, Lee was immediately transported by helicopter to the regional trauma center at Pusan National University Hospital in Busan’s Ami neighborhood, where he received treatment in the emergency room.

Based on doctors’ assessment that Lee’s jugular veins may have been damaged, he was flown by helicopter to Seoul National University Hospital in the capital’s Hyehwa neighborhood for vascular reconstruction surgery.

Following his tour of the new airport site, Lee had been planning to head to Pyeongsan, a village in South Gyeongsang Province, where former President Moon Jae-in is living out his retirement.

Various members of the political establishment called on the police to leave no stone unturned in their investigation.

Kwon Chil-seung, a senior spokesperson for the Democratic Party, described the attack on the party leader as “an act of terrorism and a serious threat to democracy.”

“We ask that the police investigate this thoroughly and leave no suspicion unexamined,” Kwon said.

“Something has happened that should never happen in our society. This needs to be investigated rigorously and swiftly by law enforcement,” said Han Dong-hoon, the interim leader of the ruling People Power Party.

“Violent behavior of this sort cannot be tolerated under any circumstances,” said President Yoon Suk-yeol, who called for the authorities to quickly determine what and how this had happened.

The Korean police have set up an investigation headquarters in Busan to investigate the assailant’s motives and determine whether he had any accomplices.

The police, who believe that Lee’s attacker clearly intended to kill the party leader, have said they will charge Kim with attempted murder.

By Kang Jae-gu, staff reporter; Kim Yeong-dong, Busan correspondent; Bae Hyeon-jeong, staff reporter

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