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Man who stabbed South Korea’s opposition leader sentenced to 15 years in prison

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A man who stabbed South Korea’s opposition leader in the neck earlier this year was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Friday, court officials said.

The knife-wielding man attacked Lee Jae-myung, head of the liberal Democratic Party, South Korea’s biggest political party, in January after approaching him asking for his autograph at an event in the southeastern city of Busan. After being detained by police, he told investigators that he wanted to kill Lee to prevent him from becoming South Korea’s president.

The Busan District Court said the man was handed the prison term after being found guilty for an attempted murder and a violation of an election law.

The court said that both the man and prosecutors have one week to appeal.

The attack happened ahead of the country’s crucial parliamentary elections in April, which ended with Lee’s Democratic Party and other opposition parties winning a massive victory against President Yoon Suk Yeol’s conservative governing party.

A court verdict called the attack “a grave challenge” to the country’s election systems and an act that “significantly destroys social consensus and confidence on the basic liberal democratic principles,” according to Yonhap news agency. It cited the verdict as saying the attacker had long loathed Lee because of differences of political opinions, practiced stabbing his neck in advance and followed him on five public events.

The court’s public affairs office couldn’t immediately confirm details of Friday’s verdict. The court didn’t disclose the man’s identity. Police earlier said he’s about 67.

The attack left Lee bleeding and slumped on the ground. He was hospitalized for eight days receiving surgery and other treatments. While leaving a Seoul hospital later in January, Lee expressed hopes for an end to “politics of hatred” in South Korea.

During police questioning, the attacker said he was unhappy with what he thought was a lack of progress in authorities’ investigations of Lee over various corruption allegations. He told investigators that he tried to kill Lee to hurt his party’s prospects for a victory in the parliamentary elections and to eventually eliminate chances of Lee becoming South Korea’s next president, according to police.

Democratic Party officials earlier confirmed the attacker became a member last year. The ruling People Power Party said he is currently not their member but media reports said the man, only identified as his surname Kim, was previously affiliated with the party’s predecessor.

Lee, a sharp-tongued former provincial governor, lost the 2022 presidential election to Yoon, a former top prosecutor, by the narrowest margin recorded in a South Korean presidential election.

Their closely fought race and post-election political bickering have intensified South Korea’s already-toxic conservative-liberal divide. Surveys have showed that Lee is one of the early favorites for the 2027 presidential election. Yoon is by law barred from seeking reelection.

By HYUNG-JIN KIM
Associated Press

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