South Korean opposition leader released from hospital a week after being stabbed in the neck

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South Korea’s main opposition leader expressed hopes for an end to “politics of hatred,” as he left a hospital Wednesday about a week after he was stabbed in the neck by a knife-wielding man who approached while asking for his autograph. The suspect’s motive isn’t known, but he told police that he attempted to kill Lee Jae-myung, leader of the liberal Democratic Party. The shocking assault came as political strife was deepening in South Korea ahead of its parliamentary elections in April.

“Our respected and dear citizens, I feel sorry for causing concern for you and I’d like to say thank you. Our people saved me,” Lee said in front of Seoul National University Hospital, as his supporters shouted his name. Lee said he hopes the attack will serve as a chance “to end politics of hatred and politics of confrontation and return to politics of mutual respect and co-existence.”

The attack, which happened during his visit to the southeastern city of Busan on Jan. 2, left Lee, 59, bleeding and slumping on the ground. After emergency treatments, Lee was flown to the Seoul hospital, where he underwent a 100-minute surgery that required stitches to close a cut on his Jugular vein.

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The suspect was detained by police on the spot. Busan police said the man is about 67 and bought the outdoor knife online but disclosed few other details about him. Busan police on Wednesday handed over the suspect to prosecutors, who can indict and set him on trial. Police earlier won a court-issued warrant to formally arrest him over alleged attempted murder.

“I caused concerns. I’m sorry,” the suspect made brief comments to reporters at the Busan police station ahead of his transfer to a prosecutors’ office, according to TV footage. After arriving at the prosecutors’ office, asked by a reporter over whether he plotted the attack alone, he said that “Yes. How could I plan this with someone else?” the footage showed.

Democratic Party officials confirmed the suspect entered their party last year. The ruling People Power Party said he is currently not a party member. But media reports said the man was previously affiliated with a predecessor of the ruling party. 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 bickering between their allies have intensified South Korea’s already-toxic 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 revenge.