Saenuri submits bill to expel Lee

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Saenuri submits bill to expel Lee

Saenuri Party lawmakers have submitted a bill to expel Representative Lee Seok-ki from the National Assembly, following his arrest on charges of plotting an armed rebellion against the government.

Representative Choi Kyung-hwan proposed the left-wing lawmaker’s expulsion; Lee, of the Unified Progressive Party, is now in custody under pretrial detention. “It is a shameful reality that a person who is suspected of agitating against the state, disavowing our government’s legitimacy and conspiring in a rebellion is in our Assembly,” Choi said at a party meeting yesterday. “Furthermore, when he was being moved to jail, he acted as if he were a triumphant general. Beyond frustration, I was burning with rage.”

As he was being moved from temporary custody at a police station in Suwon to a detention center there, he struggled violently with his police escort and shouted, “You are all thieves! Everything was fabricated!” National Intelligence Service agents started questioning him yesterday.

“The National Assembly must take measures in this situation,” Choi said. “We can say he has been already disqualified only because of the fact that he is suspected of this kind of crime while he is a legislator who has a duty to safeguard the Constitution.”

But if Saenuri prevails and Lee is expelled, his seat would probably be filled by another hard-left UPP member, Gang Jong-heon, the head of a civic group called the Korean Problem Institute, who was handed a life sentence in 1975 for espionage and served 13 years in jail after his sentence was reduced. In January this year, an appeals court vacated his conviction; an appeal to the Supreme Court by prosecutors is still pending.

“Gang is known as ‘the origin of Lee Seok-ki,’?” Yoon Sang-hyun, deputy floor leader of Saenuri, said at the party meeting.

For Lee to be expelled, two-thirds of the National Assembly membership must vote in favor. Saenuri has a slim majority, 153 seats, in the 298-seat assembly. The Ministry of Justice started work yesterday to decide whether to ask the Constitutional Court to disband the United Progressive Party, which conservatives and some other political figures see as a hotbed of pro-Pyongyang activists.

“Under leadership of the deputy justice minister, we today formed a task force to arrange measures against an anti-Constitution party or group,” Cho Sang-chul, a prosecutor and a spokesman of the Justice Ministry, said at a press briefing yesterday. “We plan to review matters regarding political parties or groups that violate the basic order of our democracy and take action against them.”

Representative Hong Moon-jong of Saenuri echoed that call asking the Constitutional Court to disband the party.

“We should not offer a single won of taxpayers’ money to the UPP,” Hong said. “It would be honorable for the UPP to take steps to disband itself.”

The Constitutional Court has already received five petitions calling for the breakup of the UPP, including a proposal by a far-right civic group in April and another by a group of North Korean defectors. Three of the five petitions were dismissed, but the most recent two are still pending at the court.

The president has the authority to ask the Constitutional Court to rule on the legality of a party. If seven of the nine justices concur, the party will be declared illegal and forced to disband. The court has never in been asked by a president to take that step in Korea’s postwar history.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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