Attack on US envoy reopens political divide in Korea

Attack on US envoy reopens political divide in Korea
US Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert leaves after he was slashed in the face by an unidentified assailant at a public forum in central Seoul March 5, 2015

Korean politics is falling into yet another ideological spat as the ruling party blames North Korea sympathizers as being connected to last week's knife attack on the top American diplomat here, while the main opposition accuses its rival of political demagoguery.

Washington has shown a relatively subdued stance about the attack on Ambassador Mark Lippert, viewing the incident as an attack by a radical individual.

Yet, right-wingers in Seoul called the attack an act of terrorism triggered by pro-North Korea forces, sparking a confrontation with those on the other side of the political spectrum.

Capitalizing on the worsening public opinion against extremist activists with ties to Pyongyang, the Saenuri Party has called for "driving out" pro-North Korean forces and criticised the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy for having sided with Pyongyang sympathizers in the past.

North Korea has long been a divisive ideological issue for political parties here with the conservative parties maintaining a usually reciprocal, tough stance, and the liberal parties in support of a softer approach to Pyongyang.

On Monday, Saenuri spokesperson Park Dae-chul called the NPAD a onetime "host of pro-North Korean forces," prompting a strong protest from its rival party.

Park said, "It is the time for the NPAD to write a letter of repentance."

The NPAD, which had remained cautious to fend off any fallout from the attack by an ultraleft activist, countered the Saenuri's offensive, arguing that the ruling party has been politically exploiting the incident and fanning a hackneyed ideological dispute concerning the communist state.

"The US did not use the word 'terrorism' when referring to the incident.

It instead used the word 'attack,' and has showed a calm, reserved response to it," said NPAD Rep. Jung Chung-rae during a meeting with senior party officials.

"The ruling party should refrain from making remarks that undermine national interests and get out of its excessive ideological campaign to blame pro-North Korean forces."

NPAD Rep. Oh Young-sik said, "The Saenuri Party's chronic illness of a campaign against pro-North Korean forces has re-emerged.

Such old-fashioned moves ahead of an election (the April by-election) should be stopped."

Amid intense partisan fights, Lippert stepped in to highlight the strength of the Korea-US alliance, effectively dwarfing anti-US sentiment that had followed US Undersecretary Wendy Sherman's earlier remarks that tacitly blamed South Korea and China for exploiting "nationalist feelings" toward Japan.

During the visits by the leaders of the parties, the ambassador urged the main parties to use the incident as an opportunity to strengthen the South Korea-US alliance and to refrain from creating more political wrangling out of the attack.

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