An assailant protesting against US-South Korean joint military exercises today slashed the American ambassador to South Korea on the face at a function in Seoul.
Mark Lippert, 42, was giving a breakfast lecture when a man wearing traditional Korean dress shouted a slogan against "war training," called for reunification of the Korean peninsula, and lunged at the ambassador with a small knife concealed in his hand, according to local media reports.
The attacker was identified as 55-year-old Kim Ki-jong, who is a member of the pro-unification group that hosted the event, the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation. The organization swiftly condemned and apologized for the attack.
A video posted to YouTube shows a bloodied Lippert being rushed from the function.
The suspected assailant, wearing a brown Korean robe, was quickly tackled to the ground by security and police, and detained. Video of his arrest was likewise speedily uploaded.
"We strongly condemn this act of violence," read a statement issued by the US State Department. "The ambassador is being treated at a local hospital. His injuries are not life threatening." The White House confirmed President Obama had called Lippert to wish him a speedy recovery.
Lippert, a regular on social media, has since tweeted that he is "Doing well & in great spirits!" and that he would "be back ASAP to advance US-ROK [South Korean] alliance!"
This apparently isn't the first time Kim has attacked foreign diplomatic staff. In 2010 he reportedly threw a concrete block at a Japanese ambassador in Seoul, for which he received a two-year suspended sentence.
The attack comes as the US military begins its annual exercises with South Korea's armed forces, codenamed Key Resolve and Foal Eagle. The event is one of the biggest military drills in the world with 200,000 Korean and 12,700 US personnel taking part in 2014.
North Korea has long viewed the annual drills and war games as a provocation, and often attempts to disrupt the exercises, as it did earlier this week with the launch of two missiles into the Sea of Japan.
This week a spokesperson for the North Korean People's Army explained the stance of North Korea, also known as the DPRK.
"Key Resolve and Foal Eagle… are dangerous nuclear war drills for invading the DPRK," the spokesperson told state-controlled media service KCNA. "They are aimed at swiftly hurling and forward-deploying the US imperialist aggressor forces in contingency on the Korean peninsula, mounting a surprise pre-emptive attack on it by 'combined forces,' 'liquidating' DPRK's headquarters, and 'occupying Pyongyang.'"
There are South Koreans who aren't happy about the enormous military exercise, either. Opponents blame the drills — and South Korea's alliance with the US — for the annual increase in tension and threat of conflict with their northern neighbor.
A small band of protestors gathered at the US embassy on Monday holding placards calling for the renewal of unification talks with North Korea and the end of military drills with the US.
Anti-US sentiment in South Korea is often driven by the large presence of American troops in the country. Around 28,500 servicemen and women are still stationed there, which have sparked protests from both nationalists and socialists who view the deployment as a form of continuing occupation that prevents reunification.
The largest of these protests came in 2002, after two 14-year-old girls were killed in a road accident by a US military vehicle. Thousands marched in the streets and Korean pop star PSY appeared at a concert supporting the protest, in which he rapped lyrics that included: "Kill those Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives... Kill them all slowly and painfully."
PSY apologized for the performance in 2012 and said in a statement that it "was part of a deeply emotional reaction to the war in Iraq and the killing of two Korean schoolgirls that was part of the overall anti-war sentiment shared by others around the world at that time."
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