A South Korean lawmaker was hospitalized on Thursday after being attacked with a rock in the Gangnam district of Seoul. Bae Hyun-jin, a member of the conservative People Power Party, suffered cuts to his head that required over 10 stitches. The attack has prompted outrage and calls for improved politician safety protocols less than a month after the leader of the main opposition party was stabbed multiple times.
Details of the Attack
Bae, aged 46, was walking to his car after attending a meeting on Thursday morning when he was struck from behind with a rock, according to party officials and his aide. The lawmaker collapsed on the sidewalk bleeding heavily before being rushed to a nearby hospital.
Doctors said Bae suffered three gashes to his head, with the largest being five centimeters long. He received more than 10 stitches and was kept overnight for monitoring, but is now in stable condition.
The attack occurred at around 10:20 a.m. local time on Thursday along a major street in the affluent Gangnam district. Bae had just left the office of a party colleague after discussing political affairs. Surveillance footage shows a person approaching Bae from behind and violently striking him on the back of the head with a rock.
Bae briefly lost consciousness from the blow. His aide and a driverassisted him while waiting for an ambulance to arrive. Police have opened an investigation, but no arrests have been made yet.
Prime Suspect Is a 14-Year-Old Boy
Police are investigating a 14-year-old boy as the prime suspect in the attack on Bae. The boy, whose name has not been released, was seen holding a large rock both before and after the incident in surveillance footage. He also matches eyewitness descriptions.
Investigators tracked the boy back to his parents’ home not far from the scene of the crime. He was brought in for questioning, but denies involvement despite the evidence against him. Police plan to seek an arrest warrant if further interrogation fails to elicit a confession.
The boy has no clear political affiliations or history of violence, leaving the motivations for such an assault unclear. Police are probing whether he acted alone or had accomplices.
Context of Political Tensions
The attack on Bae comes during a tense political environment in South Korea. Just last month, main opposition leader Lee Jae-myung was stabbed multiple times with a knife while campaigning ahead of April general elections.
That attack left Lee hospitalized for a week and prompted President Yoon Suk-yeol to label politically motivated assaults as “terrorism.” Some experts say violent rhetoric by politicians is inspiring radicals to lash out.
There have also been protests over the government’s proposed labor reforms and handling of the economy. This has increased divisions between progressives and conservatives.
Bae himself has stoked controversy through his aggressive tactics. Just days ago he helped occupy the National Assembly to block the passing of bills and has also filibustered for over 10 hours.
His party, the People Power Party, holds a majority in parliament and has been pushing a right-leaning agenda.
Reactions Condemn Attack
The assault on Bae has elicited strong reactions from across South Korea’s political sphere. President Yoon again denounced such “terrorist acts” and called for strict punishments. Other lawmakers also voiced outrage while wishing Bae a quick recovery.
With elections looming, however, some conservatives have already tried linking the attack to opposition figures. The Democratic Party accused the right-wing of politicizing the event for personal gain. They argued bitter partisan bickering will only enable more violence.
Several civil society groups held press conferences urging politicians to tone down rhetoric that inspires attacks. Others organized vigils wishing for Bae’s swift healing, displaying signs reading “No more violence” and “Protect democracy.”
Calls For Improved Safety Measures
In light of the recent attacks on Bae and Lee last month, lawmakers across party lines are demanding improved safety protocols when interacting with the public. Some are asking for increased police protection during events or installing emergency call boxes in areas frequented by politicians.
There have also been proposals to restrict access to certain dangerous items that can easily be weaponized. For example, the sale and possession of large rocks or knives could face tighter regulations around political venues or rallies.
Critics however argue that excessively limiting civil liberties is not the solution. They say the focus should be on addressing the deeper societal woes potentially motivating such assaults.
What Happens Next
Bae is expected to make a full recovery over the next week under continued hospital care. Police will likely soon issue an arrest warrant for the teenage suspect, who if convicted could face over 10 years imprisonment given the target’s political status.
The attack may lead to clashes within parliament over inflammatory political rhetoric as election season heats up. There will also be increased pressure on all parties to reach consensus on improving safety measures for politicians interacting closely with the public.
Some worry extremism enabling attacks like that on Bae will only rise without efforts to heal the nation’s polarized politics. With economic troubles and demographic crises persisting, much is at stake in the upcoming April general elections.
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