Lee Jae-myung, leader of South Korea’s opposition Democratic Party, was stabbed in the throat by a man after he asked for his autograph on Tuesday. The officials gave this information.
Party spokesman Kwon Chil-saeng told reporters that Lee, 59, was taken to the hospital where he underwent surgery to repair a large blood vessel and later recovered and was conscious in intensive care.
Kwon condemned the attack, which came just weeks before April’s general election, as “political terrorism”.
Lee, who narrowly lost the 2022 presidential election and is on trial on bribery charges he denies, was accused of visiting the site of a planned new airport in the southern city of Busan and meeting with reporters. He was attacked while speaking to supporters.
Video footage shows the suspect wearing a paper crown with Lee’s name on it as he approaches Lee, asks for his autograph, then steps forward and stabs him in the neck.
Lee frowned, ducking into the crowd behind him and collapsing. In the pictures, he is lying on the ground bleeding with his eyes closed and a handkerchief tied around his neck.
After receiving emergency treatment in Busan, Lee was flown to the capital Seoul and underwent a two-hour operation at Seoul National University Hospital.
Video footage shows party officials and police officers immediately overpowering the assailant.
Busan police officer Sohn Jae-han said the attacker was born in 1957 and used an 18cm knife bought online. They did not identify the suspect and said the motive is under investigation.
“This kind of violence should not be tolerated under any circumstances,” President Eun Suk Yeol’s office quoted him as saying.
A history of political violence
Lee, a former governor of Gyeonggi Province and a former chief prosecutor, lost the 2022 election to the conservative Yun. He has been the leader of the largest opposition party since August 2022.
When he was mayor of Seongnam, near Seoul, Lee was accused of taking bribes for a development project but denied wrongdoing.
Despite strict restrictions on gun ownership, South Korea has a history of political violence. Political leaders are not usually subject to tight security.
Lee’s predecessor, Song Young-gil, was injured in 2022 by an assailant who pointed a blunt object at his head.
Park Geun-hye, then the conservative opposition leader and later president, was stabbed to death in 2006. His father, Park Chung-hee, who was president for 16 years, was shot dead by his spy chief in 1979. A drunken private dinner.
Reporting by Hyeonhee Shin, Ju-Min Park, Soo-Hyang Choi, Josh Smith, Jihoon Lee; Written by Jack Kim. Editing: Neil Fullick, Stephen Coates, Sri Navaratnam, Nick McPhee and Timothy Heritage