DUP’s Lee hangs up on interview about the North

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DUP’s Lee hangs up on interview about the North


Lee Hae-chan, a lawmaker running for chairmanship of the main opposition Democratic United Party, answers questions from reporters yesterday at the National Assembly after he had a press conference to explain why he angrily hung up during a phone interview with YTN. [NEWSIS]

Lee Hae-chan, who is running for chairman of the largest opposition party, the Democratic United Party, angrily hung up the phone during a telephone interview with YTN yesterday when he didn’t like being questioned about pro-North Korean sentiment in his party.

A former prime minister in the Roh Moo-hyun administration, Lee made headlines the day before for an interview in which he said it was a diplomatic discourtesy for the South to intervene in the human rights situation in North Korea.

Speaking by phone yesterday on the YTN morning radio program, Lee calmly answered questions for nearly 10 minutes about the DUP’s primary to elect a leader. The host, political commentator Kim Gap-soo, changed the subject to ask about the controversy over his remarks on North Korea’s human rights and about another DUP lawmaker, Lim Soo-kyung, who made her own headlines earlier this week by calling a 28-year old North Korean defector a “traitor” in a alcohol-fueled shouting match in a restaurant.

Kim asked Lee four questions, two about the North Korean human rights issue and two about Lim. Lee answered calmly.

But when Kim followed up on a question about Lim, saying the issue was likely to be debated for a while, Lee cut in to say, “Are you going to do the interview today like this? I will stop it here.”

Lee said the interview was supposed to be about his chairmanship candidacy in the DUP primary.

Kim said there must be a misunderstanding on Lee’s part and tried to ask another question. Lee hung up on him.

Later the day, Lee held a press conference to say he accepted the request to do the YTN interview because he was told it would focus on the DUP primary.

He said that he will stand up to a “new McCarthyism” being waged by the ruling party and conservative media outlets.

“I think it is not just an attack on me,” he said, “but a conspiracy by the Lee Myung-bak administration and the Saenuri Party to make the presidential election not about policies, but a contest of colors.” In Korea, pro-North Korean figures are often called “Reds.”

A Saenuri Party official called Lee’s remark absurd, saying that the ruling party was only responding to troubling attitudes toward the North expressed by lawmakers of the DUP and the Unified Progressive Party. In a statement issued yesterday, Saenuri spokesman Kim Young-woo said Lee’s awareness of human rights problems in North Korea was “abysmal.”

During the interview yesterday and the press conference later, Lee said he has worked for improvement of human rights in North Korea but believes an improvement in inter-Korean relations is more important than enacting North Korea’s human rights law, which the Saenuri Party is currently attempting.

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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