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Political community expresses shock, condolences over Seoul mayor's death


The political community expressed shock and condolences over the death of Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, with the ruling Democratic Party, the political home of Park, cancelling most of its events for Friday.

The three-term mayor was found dead on a path of Mount Bukak in Seoul shortly after the midnight by police. Park, 64, was reported missing by his daughter Thursday evening, who said he left a message that seemed like a will before he vanished.

He is presumed to have died of suicide. News reports said that Park's female former secretary recently filed a criminal complaint about him, claiming that he had touched her numerous times and sent her "inappropriate" messages on a messenger app. Police have not confirmed the reports.

The ruling DP, of which Park is a member, was grief-stricken over the loss of a political heavyweight whose more than eight years in the high-profile Seoul mayorship catapulted him to the rank of a potential candidate for the 2022 presidential race.

Park is also the third high-profile DP member accused of sexual assault in the #MeToo wave.

In April, Oh Keo-don resigned as Busan mayor over allegations that he sexually exploited a female employee. In 2018, another party heavyweight, An Hee-jung, stepped down as governor of South Chungcheong Province after his female secretary exposed his sexual abuse. An is serving a prison sentence of 3 1/2 years.

The ruling party called off most of its political events for the day, including an emergency party-government meeting arranged to announce a set of measures meant to curb soaring house prices.

The DP leadership -- party chairman Lee Hae-chan and floor leader Kim Tae-nyeon -- put off a budget policy meeting with regional governments while Kim called off an inspection visit to a virus vaccine maker.

Rep. Lee Nak-yon and former DP lawmaker Kim Boo-kyum also canceled their campaign events for the Aug. 29 party leadership election.

A wave of condolence messages flooded in, with Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun expressing words of consolation during a regular government COVID-19 response meeting in the morning.

"Mayor Park, who has served Seoul citizens for a decade, was found passed away. I pray that the deceased rest in peace," Chung said.

Chung was to have lunch with Park the previous day, but Park abruptly canceled the meeting, saying he was not well, according to officials.

In a meeting of senior party members, DP chairman Lee paid tribute to Park's accomplishments as a dedicated civic activist and human rights lawyer. 

"The DP gives its heart to the deceased in remembrance and honor of his life dedicated to civic (rights)," according to Lee.  

Other incumbent and former DP lawmakers joined in expressing condolences.

Rep. Kim Du-kwan said, "I hope the deceased could rest in peace," in a Facebook message written in white against a black backdrop.

The rival main opposition United Future Party's floor leader Joo Ho-young also extended a message of consolation during a morning party meeting.

"I am very sorry for the tragic choice of the deceased Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon," Joo said. "I extend my words of condolence to his family who may be in deep sorrow."

Releasing a brief statement, the minor left-wing Justice Party also expressed "bewilderment" as well as condolences over Park's death.

"(The party) is grief-stricken, looking back on his career path as a democratization and civil rights activist and an administrator," a party spokesman noted.

The news of the mayor's death hit about 10 pro-Park lawmakers in the DP particularly hard, including Rep. Park Hong-keun. They rushed to Seoul National University Hospital in central Seoul even before Park's body was moved to the hospital for his funeral.

On account of Park's death, the police are on course to officially close the sexual harassment complaint raised against him.

But some opposition lawmakers claimed that an investigation is needed to get to the bottom of the accusation.

Rep. Yoo Sang-bum of the United Future Party said in a radio interview that "I felt deeply sorry for the deceased, but I think there's a need to sufficiently examine what happened in the runup (to his death)."