Conservative rising star in South Korea says Cheonan victims were ‘slandered’

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June 9 (UPI) — A young political newcomer in South Korea met with the families of victims of the Cheonan warship sinking and accused ruling party politicians of insulting the group.

Lee Jun-seok, 36, visited with the victims Wednesday at a protest site outside South Korea’s defense ministry, according to Seoul Economic Daily.

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The group was demanding the “restoration of their honor” after a politician with the ruling Democratic Party had accused the ship’s former captain, Choi Won-il, of “burying his men at sea,” according to local network MBN.

Lee reportedly condemned the remarks from Cho Sang-ho and the “slanders to surviving soldiers and their families,” 11 years after the sinking of the warship.

Lee, who is seeking chairmanship of the main opposition People Power Party, said if elected to a position of power, his first task would be to visit Daejeon National Cemetery to pay respect to the fallen soldiers.

South Koreans must “assign greater importance to the victims of my generation, who died while defending the nation in the West Sea,” Lee said as he shed tears before reporters.

Lee also bowed deeply before the group and took part in the protest, local media said.

The Harvard-educated politician is making public appearances ahead of a party election Friday.

Lee is leading in most polls, including the most recent survey conducted by local pollster Hangil, in conjunction with Kuki News.

The survey of 1,001 South Korean respondents from Saturday to Monday showed Lee’s favorability rating at 48.2%, surpassing his rivals Na Kyung-won and Joo Ho-young. Na’s rating was 16.9% and Joo’s was 7.1%, according to the poll.

Na and Joo have suggested Lee is too young to lead the party ahead of a presidential election in 2022.