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Seoul Debates How To View Mayor's Death As Sexual Harassment Allegations Emerge


In South Korea, politicians and supporters paid respects to the capital's late mayor. The former human rights lawyer and democracy activist was found dead in a park early Friday. As NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Seoul, a fierce debate has erupted about how to view the mayor and his death after local media reported allegations of sexual harassment against him.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Mayor Park Won-soon never showed up for work Thursday. His daughter filed a missing persons report, triggering a massive manhunt. Early Friday chief of detectives of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency Choi Ik-su briefed reporters near where the mayor was found in a wooded park in northern Seoul.


CHOI IK-SU: (Speaking Korean).

KUHN: A rescue dog discovered the body first, he said. Then a firefighter and a police officer who followed confirmed the finding. Choi said the cause of Park's death remains under investigation, but there are no signs of foul play. Friday the city government released a picture of a note found at Park's home. I'm so sorry to my family, to whom I've caused only pain, it read. President Moon Jae-in, U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris and Korean lawmakers visited or sent flowers to the hospital where Park's body lay.

Mayor Park was a presidential hopeful, a veteran human rights lawyer and a staunch defender of women's rights, so some Koreans were shocked by reports Thursday that a former secretary of Park's had filed a sexual harassment complaint Wednesday against the mayor. Reporters asked chief of detectives Choi Ik-su about the complaint.


CHOI: (Speaking Korean).

KUHN: As many reports have said, it has been received, and an investigation is underway, he said. But it would be inappropriate to confirm the details here. Mayor Park's family has threatened legal action against anyone who defames him. Some of his supporters sniff a conspiracy. Others sympathize with the secretary. Sim Sang-jung, leader of the left-leaning Justice Party, spoke to reporters after paying her respects to Park.


SIM SANG-JUNG: (Speaking Korean).

KUHN: I believe the victim - the accuser - may be the one who's in the most pain now, she said. I'd like her to remember above all that she is not responsible for this situation. More than 230,000 people have signed a petition on the president's office website objecting to plans for a five-day funeral for Park, which they argue would be inappropriate given the allegations. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Seoul.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRENTEMOLLER'S "MISS YOU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.
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