Tue, May 23, 2006 - Page 5 News List

South Korean prosecutors seek arrest warrant for slasher of opposition leader

AGENCIES , SEOUL

Prosecutors yesterday sought an arrest warrant on attempted murder charges for a suspect in a slashing attack on South Korea's main opposition leader, an official said.

Ji Choong-ho, 50, is accused of cutting the face of Park Geun-hye, chairwoman of the Grand National Party (GNP), with a box-cutter on Saturday -- leaving an 11cm cut on the right side of her face.

The smiling GNP leader was wading through a crowd of supporters and climbing the steps to a podium when a hand shot up from her right and swung across her cheek.

Ji was detained after the attack, and prosecution official Nam Ho-hyun said yesterday that authorities were pursuing the warrant on attempted murder charges.

If convicted, Ji could face more than five years in prison, Nam said.

Prosecutors also requested an arrest warrant against Park Jong-yeol, who was with Ji at the scene, on charges of violating election laws and damaging property, Nam said.

Both suspects deny knowing each other, prosecutors said.

Park, 54, is the daughter of former president Park Chung-hee, who was assassinated in 1979. Her mother had been gunned down in 1974.

Park was recovering in a hospital after receiving 60 stitches from the assault at a campaign rally ahead of May 31 local elections.

Physicians said the cut barely missed an artery behind her jaw bone, slicing through the salivary gland and facial muscles, meaning Park will be unable to speak normally or chew for several weeks. She will be permanently scarred.

However, Park Chang-il, head of Severance Hospital, said yesterday that Park Geun-hye was "recovering fast" from surgery.

"She still complains of frequent pain," Park told reporters. "But she seems to have quite stabilized."

Ji planned the attack after finding out about the party's campaign rally schedule, Lee said yesterday.

While in prison before he was released last August, Ji was involved in five assault cases and had strongly criticized the Grand National Party in the course of investigations of those attacks, Lee said.

Last December, Ji was detained for attacking a GNP lawmaker, but was released when the lawmaker dropped charges.

The conservative GNP is the country's largest opposition party, with 125 seats in the 297-member assembly.

The ruling Uri Party has 142 seats. Uri has wished Park a speedy recover but warned the opposition against trying to gain political mileage.

"The insinuation at [a GNP] party meeting that the Uri Party might be involved shows the intention to use the assault for political purposes," Uri Party spokesman Woo Sang-ho told reporters. "It is regrettable."

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