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US Envoy Attacked in South Korea       03/05 06:28

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- A knife attack Thursday that injured the U.S. 
ambassador to South Korea is the latest act of political violence in a deeply 
divided country where some protesters portray their causes as matters of life 
and death.

   The slashing of Ambassador Mark Lippert's face and arm was an extreme 
example, but America infuriates some leftist South Koreans because of its role 
in Korea's turbulent modern history.

   Washington, which backed the South during the 1950-53 Korean War against the 
communist North, still stations nearly 30,000 troops here and holds annual 
military drills with Seoul. That's something anti-U.S. activists view as a 
major obstacle to their goal of an eventual reunification of the rival Koreas.

   Purported U.S. interference in Korean affairs appeared to be the main 
grievance of the man police named as the assailant, Kim Ki-jong, 55, who has a 
long history of anti-U.S. protests.

   "South and North Korea should be reunified," Kim shouted as he slashed 
Lippert with a 25-centimeter (10-inch) knife, police and witnesses said.

   The attack left a gash on Lippert's face that started under his cheekbone 
and extended diagonally across his cheek toward his jawbone. He received 80 
stiches to close the 11-centimeter (4-inch) wound, Chung Nam-sik of Severance 
Hospital told reporters. Lippert, 42, also had surgery on his arm to repair 
damage to tendons and nerves and was in stable condition at the hospital.

   About nine hours after the attack, Lippert posted on his Twitter account 
that he was "doing well and in great spirits" and would be back "ASAP" to 
advance the U.S.-South Korean alliance.

   Kim is well-known among police and activists as one of a hard-core group of 
protesters willing to use violence to highlight their causes. Such protesters 
often speak of their actions in terms of a war, of a struggle to the death.

   Kim told police that he attacked Lippert to protest U.S.-South Korean 
military drills that started Monday --- exercises that the North has long 
maintained are preparations for an invasion. Kim said the drills, which Seoul 
and Washington say are purely defensive, ruined efforts for reconciliation 
between the two Koreas, officials at Seoul's Jongno police station said in a 
televised briefing.

   North Korea's state-controlled media later crowed that Kim's "knife slashes 
of justice" were "a deserved punishment on war maniac U.S." and reflected the 
South Korean people's protests against the U.S. for driving the Korean 
Peninsula to the brink of war because of the joint military drills.

   Police didn't consider the possibility that Kim, who has ties to the Korean 
Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, which hosted the breakfast meeting 
where Lippert was attacked, would show up for the event, according to a Seoul 
police official who didn't want to be named, citing office rules.

   U.S. ambassadors have security details, but their size largely depends on 
the threat level of the post. Seoul is not considered to be a particularly high 
threat post despite its proximity to the North Korean border. It's not clear 
how many guards Lippert had, but they would have been fewer than the 
ambassadors in most of the Mideast.

   Seoul's Foreign Ministry said it was the first time a foreign ambassador 
stationed in modern South Korea had been injured in a violent attack.

   However, the Japanese ambassador narrowly escaped injury in 2010 when Kim 
threw a piece of concrete at him, according to police. Kim, who was protesting 
Japan's claim to small disputed islands that are occupied by South Korea, hit 
the ambassador's secretary instead, media reports said, and was sentenced to a 
three-year suspended prison term over the attack.

   The website of the Woorimadang activist group that Kim heads describes the 
group's long history of anti-U.S. protests. Photos show him and other activists 
rallying last week in front of the U.S. Embassy in Seoul to protest the 
U.S.-South Korean military drills, which are to run until the end of April.

   South Korea's Unification Ministry says Kim visited North Korea with a civic 
group eight times between 2006 and 2007, during a period of inter-Korean 
cooperation under a liberal government in Seoul.

   In a Facebook posting, Yoon Meehyang, who heads an activist group 
representing South Korean women forced to serve as wartime sex slaves for 
Japanese troops, said Kim was a consistent trouble-maker at the group's rallies 
several years ago. Yoon and other activists expressed worries that the attack 
on Lippert would harm the public image of peaceful leftist protesters, or 
prompt the conservative government to suppress their activities.

   Small to medium-sized demonstrations regularly occur across Seoul, and most 
are peaceful.

   But scuffles with police do break out occasionally, and the burning of 
effigies of North Korean and Japanese leaders is also common. Some 
demonstrators have also previously severed their own fingers, thrown bodily 
fluids at embassies and tried to self-immolate.

   Lippert became ambassador last October and has been a regular presence on 
social media and in speeches and presentations during his time in Seoul. His 
wife gave birth here and the couple gave their son a Korean middle name.

   He will need treatment at the hospital for the next three or four days and 
may experience sensory problems in his left hand for several months, said 
Chung, the hospital official.


(KA)


 
 
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