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Leftist under fire for national anthem remarks

Saenuri slams UPP’s Lee for rejecting symbol of patriotism

A progressive lawmaker at the center of an ideological row has become embroiled in a fresh dispute after he showed disrespect for the national anthem.

In a private meeting with reporters Friday, Rep. Lee Seok-ki of the far-left Unified Progressive Party said that Aegukga (song for love of the country) was made the national anthem by the dictatorial regime.

“Aegukga is just one of the songs you sing to show your love for the country,” he was quoted by the Hankook Ilbo daily as saying. “You can sing that song if you’d like, but it is totalitarian to force you to do it.”
Rep. Lee Seok-ki
Rep. Lee Seok-ki

Lee faces calls for resignation for playing a role in his party’s election fraud and his past pro-North Korea activities.

The remark reinforced qualms about his ideological leanings, especially among conservatives who suspect him of still harboring sympathy toward North Korea.

“Disapproving of the national anthem is the same as denying the country’s identity,” said ruling Saenuri Party spokesperson Kim Young-woo.

“If Aegukga is not Lee’s national anthem, he is not a Korean citizen,” Kim Sung-jin, a spokesman for Gyeonggi Governor Kim Moon-soo, said on Twitter.

The song composed by Ahn Eak-tai has been used as the national anthem since the South Korean government was founded in 1948. A law was passed in 2010 to make its status official.

The main opposition Democratic United Party also called Lee’s remarks inappropriate.

“Aegukga should not be the target of ideological disputes. We demand Rep. Lee practice politics of common sense,” said Kim Hyun, DUP spokeswoman.

Lee defended his position Saturday, saying he meant to point out that activities of the UPP’s new leadership, consisting of his rivals, are not in harmony with the progressive party’s vision.

The party had shunned playing the song during its official meeting. Rhyu Si-min, a liberal-minded former member of its leadership committee, took the issue last month when the party was enmeshed in a controversy over allegations of voting rigging.

“The meeting was off the record and designed to close the distance (between me and reporters) as human beings through a round of questions and answers,” he said.

The controversy underscores the ever-deepening ideological rift among political parties in the run up to the presidential election.

Lee and his party colleague Rep. Kim Jae-yeon bore the brunt of conservative attacks for their involvement in pro-North groups during their activist days in the 1990s. In 2003, Lee was sentenced to two and a half years in prison on charges of violating the anti-communist National Security Law.

The two proportional representatives are also suspected of having played roles in alleged vote rigging during the party’s candidate selection for the April general election.

On Thursday, investigators raided Lee’s public relations firm in Seoul in connection with a separate election fund embezzlement case.

The Saenuri Party and DUP are urging the two lawmakers to give up their seats in the nascent National Assembly. The trouble-laden UPP has also decided to nullify their affiliation.

Nevertheless, Lee and Kim vowed to stay on.

The UPP’s leftists including the two have declined to elucidate their position on the North’s hereditary power handover, communist principles and human rights issues.

Conservative lawmakers, government officials and even President Lee Myung-bak relayed concerns over national security, which critics call an attempt to agitate public sentiment and sway the December vote.

By Shin Hyon-hee  (