Lee Jae-myung comes under attack while speaking to reporters during a visit to the southeastern port city of Busan.
South Korean opposition leader Lee Jae-myung has been airlifted to hospital in Seoul after he was stabbed in the neck by a man during a visit to the southeastern port city of Busan.
Lee, who heads the main opposition Democratic Party, was stabbed on the left side of his neck by a man who lunged out of the crowd as he was walking with journalists on Tuesday morning. Emergency officials have said he is not in a critical condition, although his exact status is unknown.
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Pictures in South Korean media showed Lee, 59, lying on his back on the ground with his eyes closed as officials crowded around him and one pressed a cloth against his neck.
Democratic Party spokesperson Kwon Chil-seung said the politician was being flown to Seoul National University in the capital after receiving emergency treatment at Pusan National University Hospital.
Medical staff at the latter hospital suspected damage to a jugular vein that carries blood from the head to the heart. “There is concern that there could be large haemorrhage or additional haemorrhage, according to medical staff,” Kwon said.
The attack, seen in video footage and photographs, unfolded while Lee was touring the site of a proposed airport in Busan.
The assailant, wearing a paper crown reading “I’m Lee Jae-myung”, initially approached the politician asking for an autograph.
Videos circulated on social media showed the suspect being chased and tackled by several people, apparently including plainclothes police officers.
In a televised briefing, senior Busan police officer Sohn Jae-han said the suspect, aged about 67, told investigators that he bought the 18cm (7-inch) knife online.
However, the suspect has refused to answer police questions about his motives, according to the daily Busan Ilbo.
Bricks and knives
A former governor of Gyeonggi province, Lee ran for the presidency in 2022 but lost narrowly to conservative Yoon Suk-yeol in a fiercely fought campaign.
Yoon expressed “deep concern” at the attack on the opposition leader and called for an immediate and thorough investigation.
“This type of violence must never be tolerated under any circumstances,” his office quoted him as saying.
Although South Korea has strict gun laws, politicians have been attacked with other weapons, and there is normally a police presence at major events involving high-profile leaders.
Lee’s predecessor, Song Young-gil, was attacked in 2022 at a public event by an assailant who hit him in the head with a blunt object.
Park Geun-hye, who later became president, was attacked with a knife at an event in 2006 while she was a conservative opposition party leader, and needed surgery for the wound on her face.
Rags to riches
Born into a poor farming family, Lee entered politics and was first elected mayor of Seongnam, a satellite city of Seoul, in 2010.
He worked in a factory to put himself through night school and become a human rights lawyer. He has used his rags-to-riches story to help power his political rise.
His recent career has been overshadowed by a number of scandals.
He faces trial on charges of bribery in connection with a firm that is suspected of illicitly transferring $8m to North Korea and is also accused of breaching his duties as Seongnam mayor after one of the city’s companies made a loss of 20 billion won ($15m) while he was mayor.