South Korea’s opposition leader Lee Jae-myung was stabbed in the neck Tuesday during a visit to the southern port city of Busan.
Lee, the chief of the main opposition Democratic Party, is conscious and was airlifted to the Pusan National University Hospital, a party official and a fire department official told Reuters. He was attacked by an unidentified man during a tour of the site of a proposed airport, Yonhap reported.
The attack left a gash in Lee’s neck that is about 1 cm long, according to YTN television.
The suspected attacker appeared to be a man in his 50s or 60s who wore a paper crown with Lee’s name printed on it, news photographs showed. He approached Lee asking for an autograph among a crowd of supporters before he lunged forward and attacked, video footage showed. The assailant was quickly subdued and arrested at the scene.
The assailant was refusing to answer police questions about his motives, the daily Busan Ilbo reported.
Video clips aired on YTN television and social media showed the attack in which a man was seen lunging at Lee with his arm stretched out, followed by Lee grimacing and collapsing to the ground.
News photographs showed Lee lying on the ground with his eyes closed and other people pressing a handkerchief against the side of his neck.
About two dozen police officers were responding at the scene.
President Yoon Suk Yeol condemned the attack, calling it unacceptable, according to his office. The president expressed deep concern for Lee and asked for him to receive the best care, so he could make a speedy recovery.
Lee, a former governor of Gyeonggi province, narrowly lost the 2022 presidential election to the conservative Yoon, a former chief prosecutor. Lee has led the main opposition party since August 2022.
South Korea’s next parliamentary elections are scheduled for April.
Despite strict restrictions on gun possession, South Korea has a history of political violence involving other weapons.
Lee’s predecessor, Song Young-gil, was attacked in 2022 at a public event by an attacker who swung a blunt object against his head and caused a laceration.
Then-conservative opposition party leader Park Geun-hye, who later served as president, was attacked with a knife at an event in 2006 and suffered a gash on her face that required surgery.
In 2015, then-U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert, was attacked by an assailant and suffered a large gash on his face while attending a public event.
Reuters contributed to this report.