- Park Won-Soon, the mayor of Seoul, was reported missing on Thursday and was found dead early Friday morning, days after reportedly being accused of sexual harassment by a former secretary.
- His death was officially considered a suicide after a note was found at his residence.
- The allegations are particularly shocking because Park was a known advocate for women’s rights and was considered a potential presidential candidate.
- His accuser suggested more of Park’s victims existed but were scared to come forward. In accordance with South Korean law, an investigation into the matter has been dropped because of his death.
Body Found at Bukaksan
The mayor of Seoul, a potential presidential candidate and arguably the second most powerful public official in the country, was found dead on Friday, roughly two days after a former secretary from his office accused him of sexually harassing her in 2017.
According to authorities, the body of Park Won-Soon was found on a forested hill on Bukaksan, a mountain in northern Seoul, not too far from his home in the Jongno neighborhood. CCTV footage showed the mayor arriving at the park by taxi at 10:53 a.m. on Thursday. By 5:17 p.m. Thursday, his daughter filed a police report stating that he “had left home four to five hours ago” and left a message that sounded like his will. By this point, his phone was turned off.
Shortly after the report, upwards of 600 officers, K-9 units, and medical personnel were dispatched to search for the mayor. At 12:01 a.m. Friday, his body was found near a bag, a water bottle, a cell phone, writing utensils, and Park’s business card. Police reported that there were no signs this case was a homicide, and after the unveiling of a note from his residence, it was considered a suicide.
In the note, Park wrote that he was “sorry” to everyone and specifically stated that he was sorry to his family for “causing only pain.” His note made no mention of the allegations against him.
Police are in talks with the Park family over whether to conduct an autopsy. In the meantime his body is being kept at Seoul National University Hospital, where supporters could be seen outside crying and shouting, “Get up, Park Won-Soon,” and “We’re sorry, Park Won-Soon!”
Park’s death is a dramatic loss for the city for a variety of reasons. Despite South Korea having the highest suicide rate among the member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, suicide by politicians is quite rare. Additionally, Park has been a staple of life in Seoul, which dominates the political landscape of South Korea. He was the longest serving mayor in the country’s history, having been in the role since 2011.
He was also considered a likely candidate to run for the Democratic party after President Moon Jae-in’s term was up in 2022 – the same time Park’s most recent mayoral tenure would end.
The circumstances leading up to his presumed-suicide have also left many South Korean citizens shocked. On Wednesday, a former secretary from his office went to police and filed a report accusing the mayor of sexual harassment, although this accusation wasn’t public until after Park went missing.
For years, South Korea has been embroiled in its own #MeToo reckoning, leading to many actors, businessmen, and politicians losing their positions and often facing jail time.
However, the allegations against Park, of which few details are actually known to the public, reportedly include unwanted physical contact and inappropriate messages. His alleged victim, according to Chosun Ilbo, gave investigators messages and inappropriate photos Park had sent her while she worked for him. She also allegedly said that there were more victims who were too scared to come forward.
The allegations are particularly shocking because of Park’s past. The mayor was long been considered a pillar of civil rights and women’s rights. He was famous for being a prominent civil rights attorney who founded the nation’s most influential civil rights group.
During his time as a lawyer, he campaigned on behalf of “comfort” women, Korean sex slaves who were forced into the role by the Japanese during the 1930s and ’40s. He also won major cases, including a case in the ’80s, during the country’s dictatorship, against a police officer who molested a woman while she was being interrogated. One of his biggest accolades was winning South Korea’s first sexual harassment case ever in the ’90s.
These actions were often praised by supporters because they challenged South Korea’s strict hierarchical and patriarchal structure, which are ingrained into the culture and language.
During his time as mayor, he focused on the environment and urban renewal for Seoul. Park also focused on fighting and containing COVID-19, leading to Seoul, a city of 10 million, having less than 2000 cases. For comparison, the city of Los Angeles, which is similar in population but less densely populated, had well over 50,000 cases.
Five Days of Funeral Services
In accordance with South Korean law, the police investigation against Park will be dropped due to his death. That’s because police won’t have someone to actually charge a crime with.
Although, when city officials were asked if they would be conducting their own investigation, officials said they are “not yet aware” of the allegations.
Park’s note mentioned that he wished to be cremated and have his ashes spread over his parents’ graves. Currently, the city of Seoul will be holding a mayoral funeral for Park, which means it will last five days. Generally speaking, Korean funerals last three days.
An altar will be set up in front of City Hall in Seoul for citizens and staff members wanting to mourn Park’s death.
See What Others Are Saying: (Yonhap News Agency) (Chosun Ilbo) (The Korea Times)
Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders
Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.
Azovstal Waves the White Flag
Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.
A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.
The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.
It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.
Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.
Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.
Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.
Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands
After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.
The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.
Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.
The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.
The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.
It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)
Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls
Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.
Hundreds Make It Out Alive
A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.
People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.
The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.
Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.
“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”
63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.
“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.
Putin’s Plans Go Poorly
In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.
On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.
The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”
Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.
After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.
“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.
On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.
Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.
The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”
“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.
Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.
See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (U.S. News and World Report) (The Hill)
Israel Moves to Build Over 4,000 West Bank Settlements as Palestinian Homes Demolished
The Israeli military is proceeding with a plan to evict at least 1,000 Palestinians from the West Bank.
Settlers Get Ready to Move in
On Thursday, a military planning body in the Israeli-occupied West Bank approved the construction of 4,427 housing units, according to the watchdog group Peace Now.
“The State of Israel took another stumble toward the abyss and further deepened the occupation,” Hagit Ofran, an expert at Peace Now, said via the Associated Press.
The plan is the largest advancement of settlement projects since President Joe Biden took office in the United States.
The U.S. opposes settlement expansion and said as much when the plan was first announced last week, but critics say Washington has done little to pressure Israel to stop.
In a statement, U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland called the settlements a “major obstacle to peace.”
“Continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population,” he said.
In October, Israel approved some 3,000 settlement homes despite a U.S. rebuke. There are currently over 130 Israeli settlements in the West Bank harboring almost 500,000 settlers, in addition to the nearly three million Palestinians living in the territory.
Palestinians Pushed Off Their Land
On Wednesday, the same day Israeli soldiers allegedly shot and killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the military demolished at least 18 buildings in the West Bank, including 12 residential ones.
Israel’s supreme court has also ruled that eight Palestinian hamlets can be expelled, potentially leaving at least 1,000 Palestinians homeless.
The area targeted is known as the Masafer Yatta, and its residents say they have been herding animals and practicing traditional desert agriculture there for decades, long before Israel took over the West Bank in 1967. Israel, however, claims there were no permanent structures there before the military designated it a firing zone in the 1980s
“What’s happening now is ethnic cleansing,” Sami Huraini, an activist and a resident of the area, told the Associated Press. “The people are staying on their land and have already started to rebuild.”