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How South Korean opposition leader was stabbed in neck

South Korean opposition party leader Lee Jae-myung is attended to after being attacked in Busan on January 2, 2024. South Korean opposition party leader Lee Jae-myung was attacked on January 2, while talking to reporters in the port city of Busan, Yonhap news agency reported. PHOTO/AFP

South Korean opposition party leader Lee Jae-myung was stabbed in the neck with a knife on Tuesday by a man who pushed through a crowd pretending to be his supporter, police said.

Lee was surrounded by journalists and supporters at a construction site in the southern port city of Busan when a man lunged and struck him in the neck, South Korean television channels showed.

He 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.

The assailant, a man in his 60s, “used an 18-centimetre knife — its blade is 13 centimetres long — which he purchased online”, Busan police officer Son Je-han said at a press briefing.

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.

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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.

He 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.

“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.

Lee was later flown to the capital, where Kwon said he would undergo surgery at the Seoul National University Hospital.

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.

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 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.

Lee has denied all allegations against him.

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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.

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