September 18, 2023 12:22
Minjoo Party leader Lee Jae-myung was rushed to hospital on Monday morning after a hunger strike that has been going on for 19 days.
Lee, who is under investigation for corruption, went on a public hunger strike at the National Assembly on Aug. 31 over a smorgasbord of demands. He was barely conscious when he was taken to St. Mary's Hospital in Yeouido, Seoul in an ambulance at around 7 a.m.
As the weekend approached, senior party officials and medical professionals had urged Lee to stop fasting, but he refused. That prompted Minjoo Party lawmakers to suddenly demand the resignation of the entire Cabinet, while the ruling People Power Party is accusing the opposition of staging a "useless" stunt.
Medical staff also called an ambulance the previous day but Lee resisted being taken away. A presidential official said, "The victims of this useless protest are the public."
Lee's catalogue of demands includes an end to Japan's release of wastewater from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant and an apology from President Yoon Suk-yeol for "retrograde" policies. But he cast the net so wide that he left himself no exit strategy, deepening divisions in the already fractious National Assembly and his own party.
Meanwhile, prosecutors on Monday requested an arrest warrant for Lee for breach of trust, bribery and other charges related to a land development scandal when he was mayor of Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province and allegations of involvement in an illegal cash remittance to North Korea.
Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon faced a barrage of questions from reporters as he arrived at the National Assembly on Monday. "I don't think we should create a precedent where the judicial system grinds to a halt just because a suspect undergoing investigation goes on a hunger strike and self-harms," Han said. "I've never seen a hunger strike that begins after a summons like this. In the past, powerful individuals have gone on hunger strikes, been hospitalized, and used wheelchairs to avoid punishment, but they didn't succeed."
"When politicians went on hunger strike in the past, at least their goals and reasons were clear, and they explained them well. Why [Lee] went on this hunger strike is not well explained," Han added. Lee and his fellow Minjoo lawmakers "know that they don't have any legitimate reason, so when Lee started his hunger strike, they started talking about things like the prime minister's dismissal, the resignation of the entire cabinet, and impeachment, which have no context."
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