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Park Won-soon, lawyer turned leading activist

The public’s attention has turned to lawyer-turned-civil activist Park Won-soon, as professor. Ahn Cheol-soo declined to run in the upcoming Seoul mayoral by-election, throwing his support behind Park.

“Park has long dedicated himself to promoting civil rights in Korea and is sufficiently qualified to serve as Seoul’s mayor,” said Ahn on Tuesday afternoon after a closed-door meeting with Park. Park earlier had declared he would run, and is expected to make his official announcement shortly after the Chuseok holiday.

The 55-year-old former lawyer, though a newcomer to the political arena, is a legendary figure among civil rights groups.

In 1995-2002, he served as secretary general of the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, a leading civic group, and led a spate of campaigns including promoting the rights of minority shareholders.

In 1996, he won the Ramon Magsaysay Prize, dubbed the Asian Nobel Peace Prize, for his contribution to the development of Korean democracy.

He entered Seoul National University to major in law in 1975, but dropped out as a freshman upon being sentenced to a jail term for participating in a demonstration against the dictatorial regime.

After entering Dankook University to study history, he passed the state judiciary examination in 1980 and worked as a prosecutor in the Daegu District Prosecutor’s Office for a year but left the office to start his career as a human rights lawyer.

During these years as human rights attorney, Park handled the defense of numerous controversial rights cases and contributed to introducing new legal concepts, such as the minimal cost of living.

In 2002, he moved his civic career from the PSPD to the Beautiful Foundation, a welfare venture, where he made his acquaintance with Ahn.

Considering his liberal tendencies, the main opposition Democratic Party hinted that Park should form an alliance with its candidates, but the activist asserted his independence.

“As an independent representative, I will not join the DP’s internal race, but remain open to forming an opposition unity with other candidates,” Park said in a radio interview on Wednesday.

By Bae Hyun-jung (tellme@heraldcorp.com)
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