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South Korea's Opposition Leader Hospitalized Following Hunger Strike

South Korea’s prominent opposition leader, Lee Jae-myung, was admitted to the hospital on Monday after a 19-day hunger strike to protest against government policies, as confirmed by his political party.

Shortly after his hospitalization, prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for him on charges of corruption.

Lee, aged 58, initiated his hunger strike on August 31, primarily to condemn what he perceives as the government’s “inept and forceful” policies, with a particular focus on its failure to challenge Japan’s release of treated wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear reactor.

Media footage displayed Lee, a former presidential candidate, appearing pale and frail. Nevertheless, his admission to the hospital did not deter prosecutors from pursuing his arrest.

South Korea’s Justice Minister, Han Dong-hoon, emphasized that while the decision to undertake a hunger strike is a matter of personal choice, it should not impede the investigative or trial processes. He raised concerns about the potential precedent it could set, suggesting that if such actions affect investigations and trials, it could encourage individuals, including minor offenders, to engage in fasting when summoned.

Prosecutors have leveled accusations against Lee, alleging bribery related to a company suspected of illicitly transferring $8 million to North Korea.

He is also facing accusations of breaching his duties, which are alleged to have resulted in a company owned by Seongnam city incurring a loss of 20 billion won ($15 million) during his tenure as its mayor.

Lee vehemently denies all these allegations.

For the prosecution’s request for an arrest warrant to be considered by the court, Lee’s parliamentary immunity would need to be lifted by the 300-member National Assembly, where the Democratic Party, led by Lee, holds a majority.

Lee’s political party criticized this recent development, characterizing the arrest warrant as a clear indication of the alleged heavy-handedness and authoritarian nature of President Yoon Suk Yeol’s administration, as stated in a party statement.

A prior request for an arrest warrant had been rejected by the National Assembly in February.

The ruling People Power Party has urged Lee to halt his hunger strike and expressed readiness to engage with him on his policy concerns once he regains his health.

Lee, who had a challenging upbringing as a former child factory worker and experienced an industrial accident as a teenage school dropout, ascended to political prominence partly by emphasizing his journey from poverty to success.

However, a series of scandals has overshadowed his pursuit of the highest office. He faced scrutiny over a controversial land development deal and persistent rumors linking him to organized crime.

Tragically, at least five individuals associated with various scandals connected to Lee in the past have been found dead, with some cases appearing to be suicides.

In last year’s presidential election, he lost to Yoon by a narrow margin of 0.7 percent.

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Written by Olusesan Oba

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