Sunday, May 21, 2006

Park Geun-hye assaulted in Shinchon

Police are saying that Park's assailant, fifty-year-old Mr. Chi/Ji, had been convicted of past criminal charges, including assault, and had served fourteen years in prison. Yonhap is reporting that Chi has been donating 2000 won (about two bucks) to the ruling Uri Party every month since 2004, and the Uri Party has confirmed that he is a registered member of their Seoul chapter, which they said they will revoke. Yonhap also mentioned speculations on how deep the cut was, put at one to three centimeters deep. [Secondary update: my comment-for-the-week on Marmot's is here.]

The leader of the conservative Hannara Party, Korea's main opposition party, was attacked by at least two inebriated men in the Shinchon district of western Seoul this past evening as she helped campaign for Hannara Party mayoral candidate Oh Se-hoon. Her face was sliced "from ear jaw," requiring her to undergo
two hours of surgery at nearby Yonsei University Severance Hospital (where yours truly had an appendectomy five years ago).

One of the men, identified only by his surname Chi (as is typical in Korean journalism), reportedly slashed the right side of her face with a utility knife, leaving an eleven-centimeter cut (over four inches). She received over sixty stitches, and a later report says she is in stable condition (earlier reports said the cut was ten centimeters long and required just seventeen stitches).

Hospital officials said Park's life was "no way in danger," but her recovery could take weeks if not months, because the cut caused, according to Yonhap, "extensive damage to her jaw muscles."

Yonhap says that two heavily intoxicated suspects were detained by GNP officials at the scene and taken to a nearby police station, but police say a third suspect fled the scene.

Although the two men reportedly were drunk, indications are that there was some political motivation for their attack, since the uncooperative pair was shouting, "Let's save democracy. Long live the Republic of Korea," according to police. One Hannara Party member said, "The suspects said they attacked Park out of their dissatisfaction towards society." Commentary at The Marmot's Hole has largely been railing against Korea's left in general over the incident.

This kind of thing really is quite a shock. Although violence toward politicians is not unheard of in Korea (Ms. Park's father, President Park Chung-hee, and her mother Yuk Yŏngsu, were both assassinated), Seoul and Korea in general are both relatively safe places. It may be that sense of safety that lulled security details into thinking that a high-profile—and polarizing—political figure like Ms. Park could press the flesh without such an incident occurring.

How did these armed attackers get close to the leader of a major political party and a potential future president? Police say Chi approached Park as if to shake her hand, but instead took out his box cutter to attack her. His accomplice then punched her in the face.

Hannara Party members blamed the government for the lack of security, while the Blue House immediately criticized the assault on opposition leader Park as an "unpardonable incident" and called for a thorough investigation, saying election-related violence would not be tolerated.

The preening Chung Dong-young, former Unification Minister and potential ruling party candidate for president, said, "It is very shocking. I am really worried about her health."

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