US envoy leaves Seoul hospital after knife attack

US envoy leaves Seoul hospital after knife attack
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

The US ambassador to South Korea left hospital Tuesday following treatment for a knife attack, saying the incident was "scary" but would not change his "open and friendly" approach to the job.

Mark Lippert, 42, underwent surgery to treat deep gashes to his cheek and hand after he was slashed by a knife-wielding nationalist at a breakfast function in central Seoul last Thursday.

Hospital officials said that after five days of treatment the US diplomat had now had all 80 stitches from his face removed and the pain in his left wrist had subsided.

"I feel pretty darn good, all things considered," a smiling Lippert said before he was discharged, speaking to journalists with part of his face covered with clear adhesive bandages.

"It was obviously a scary incident but I am walking, talking, holding my baby, hugging my wife. So I just feel really good," the new father said, adding he would get back to work "as soon as possible".

Lippert, whose popularity among South Koreans has only grown since the attack, expressed gratitude at the "outpouring of support" he and his family have received.

"We have made it our mission to be open and friendly. And that will not change," he said. "The bottom line is that this incident has only strengthened our love and affection for this country and our belief in the unbreakable bond that exists between the United States and the Republic of Korea." - 'Vicious' smear campaign

The assailant, Kim Ki-Jong, was formally charged with attempted murder on Friday, despite his pleas that he never intended to kill the ambassador. Asked if he had carried out the assault on the orders of North Korea, Kim insisted he acted alone.

Kim, 55, has a previous conviction for hurling a rock at the then-Japanese ambassador in 2010.

Activists have described him as a loner whose behaviour became increasingly erratic, forcing his friends and colleagues to shun him. Kim has visited the North seven times since 1999, and once tried to erect a memorial in Seoul to the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il after his death in 2011.

Pyongyang has rejected accusations that it may be behind the attack as a "vicious" smear campaign by Seoul. "What is ridiculous is its attempt to link the case with the DPRK (North Korea)," the North's official KCNA news agency said Tuesday in a commentary.

"No wonder, such a guy was attacked as he worked hard to realise the sinister design to stifle the DPRK and spoil the North-South relations at any cost," it said.

Kim has said he attacked Lippert as a protest against ongoing South-US army drills, which he blamed for souring inter-Korean relations. The annual drills, known as Foal Eagle and Key Resolve, have long been condemned by Pyongyang as rehearsals for invasion.

Lippert said in the aftermath of the attack that US authorities would "take a hard look" at security and technical procedures in South Korea.

Since his arrival last year, Lippert has proved a popular ambassador, tweeting regularly about his life in Seoul and setting up a tongue-in-cheek Twitter account for his dog, Grigsby.

Since he was hospitalised, his Twitter account has drawn many messages of support, and groups of well-wishers have rallied in front of the US embassy and outside the hospital to denounce the attack.

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