May 29, 2006

S.Korea party leader leaves hospital after attack

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean opposition leader Park
Geun-hye left hospital on Monday, nine days after an attacker
slashed her cheek with a box cutter during a campaign rally and
just ahead of local polls her party is expected to win.

Park, 54, the chairwoman of the Grand National Party (GNP),
is seen as a likely candidate in next year's presidential
election and saw her popularity edge up after the May 20
assault that shocked South Koreans.

She underwent surgery to close an 11-cm (4.3-inch) cut on
her right cheek that sliced through the salivary gland and
facial muscles but narrowly missed an artery behind her jaw

"I am more worried about whether this incident has left a
scar on the minds of all the people of this country than the
scar that's left on my face," Park said after being discharged,
her voice breaking slightly.

"I hope that my blood and scar serve to create the chance
for all of us to sew up the divisions and scars as we move on
to become one again," she said.

Scores of cheering supporters greeted her as she left
Seoul's Severance Hospital.

Politically-motivated attacks are not new to Park.

Her father and former president, Park Chung-hee, was shot
dead by a disgruntled spy chief in 1979. Her mother, Yuk
Yong-soo, was killed five years earlier by a stray bullet that
was meant for him.

Park's discharge came two days before South Koreans go to
the polls to pick local government leaders and representatives.

She will rejoin campaigning and appear at rallies in
closely-fought races in Taejon and Cheju, a party official told
South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

The opposition GNP was seen leading in most public opinion
polls carried out last week, and is expected to win the
majority of 16 key races for city mayors and governors.

Park's personal popularity has surpassed that of Seoul
Mayor Lee Myung-bak and former Prime Minister Goh Kun, both
considered possible presidential contenders, in some of the
opinion polls.

South Koreans will vote on a new president in December 2007
for a single five-year term.

The prosecution has arrested a man on charges of attempted
murder and election law violations. Ji Choong-ho, the suspect,
has said he was not part of any organized attempt to harm Park,
reports said.