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S Korean Oppn leader recovering well from surgery after stabbing attack

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Lee Jae-myung, S Korea opposition leader

The stabbing damaged Lee’s jugular vein but did not affect his artery | Photo: Reuters

South Korea’s main opposition leader is recovering well from surgery after being stabbed in the neck earlier this week, his doctor said Thursday, as police seek a formal arrest warrant to extend the suspect’s custody.

Lee Jae-myung, head of the liberal Democratic Party, South Korea’s biggest political party, was stabbed by a knife-wielding man who approached him asking for his autograph at an event in the southeastern city of Busan on Tuesday. The man was immediately detained by police.

The assault left Lee, 59, bleeding and slumped on the ground. After emergency treatment, he was flown to a Seoul hospital for an operation that lasted about 100 minutes. After the surgery, Lee was placed an an intensive care unit at Seoul National University Hospital and then transferred to an ordinary ward on Wednesday evening, according to party officials.

In his first briefing since the surgery, Min Seung-kee, a vascular surgeon at the hospital who performed the operation, said Thursday that Lee is recovering smoothly. Min said he will continue to closely monitor him for any possible complications.

Min said the stabbing damaged Lee’s jugular vein but did not affect his artery, cranial nerve, esophagus or respiratory tract. Min said he conducted a procedure called revascularization, which required stitches to close a 9 millimeter (0.35 inch) cut to the vein.

The suspect’s motive isn’t known, though he told police that he attempted to kill the politician and that he had plotted the attack alone.

Busan police said they have requested a warrant to formally arrest the suspect. Under South Korean law, police can detain a criminal suspect for up to 48 hours, but a court-issued arrest warrant is needed to extend custody for 10 more days. Police often seek arrest warrants if there are concerns that a suspect could flee or destroy evidence.

The Busan District Court said Thursday it will review whether to issue the arrest warrant. Court officials said a decision could be reached as early as Thursday afternoon. TV footage showed the suspect, in handcuffs and wearing a mask, taking a van with police officers to the court.

Police officers searched the suspect’s residence and office in the central city of Asan and examined his cellphone on Wednesday. Photos taken by South Korean media showed police officers raiding a real estate office in Asan.

Police have disclosed few details about the suspect other than he is 67 and bought the outdoor knife online.

Local media reported that the suspect was previously a member of the conservative governing People Power Party but recently quit and joined Lee’s Democratic Party. Some of Lee’s supporters speculated that the suspect may have thought that having Democratic Party membership would make it easier to obtain Lee’s schedule for an attack.

The Democratic Party refused to confirm whether the man is a member, citing privacy rules. Police said they searched the Seoul headquarters of both the Democratic Party and the People Power Party on Wednesday to determine whether the suspect was affiliated with either, but refused to provide further details.

One of the suspect’s neighbors in Asan who said he has known him for about two years described him as a quiet, shy man who rarely spoke about politics. The neighbor, who asked to be identified only by his family name, Jeon, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the suspect runs a real estate agency in Asan but is several months behind in his rent.

Lee is a tough-speaking liberal who narrowly lost the 2022 presidential election to President Yoon Suk Yeol. Their closely fought race and post-election political strife between their allies have intensified South Korea’s already-severe conservative-liberal divide.

Lee is a vocal critic of Yoon’s major polices. He faces an array of corruption allegations and related trials and investigations. Lee has denied any legal wrongdoing and accuses Yoon’s government of pursuing a political vendetta.

First Published: Jan 04 2024 | 12:59 PM IST


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