SEOUL--The bitter divide in public opinion over South Korea's free trade agreement with the United States is also reflected in the opposing views over a lawmaker who sprayed tear gas in the National Assembly.
Kim Seon-dong, a 44-year-old member of the minor Democratic Labor Party who opposed the FTA, sprayed the gas at the vice speaker of the assembly during the session in which the agreement was approved by an overwhelming majority of those in attendance on Nov. 22.
While conservative politicians denounced Kim for bringing shame on South Korea, a number of messages have been posted on social networking sites calling him a hero.
On Nov. 25, Kim stood alone in front of the Blue House, which contains the presidential office, protesting the FTA with the United States. Of his tear gas stunt, he said, "I wanted the ruling party members to understand what most of the public will feel when they shed tears because of the agreement."
Kim became involved in student demonstrations while attending the renowned Korea University. He dropped out and worked for a time as a welder before becoming involved in the labor union movement.
Since the tear gas incident, Kim has attended a number of meetings opposed to the FTA, where he was mobbed by other participants wanting to shake his hand and offer encouragement.
On social networking sites, Kim has also been likened to those who fought against Japan's colonial rule.
In the opposing camp are the conservative citizens groups who have filed a criminal complaint with prosecutors against Kim for insulting the National Assembly.
Opinion is divided within the ruling Grand National Party. Some members have called for strict disciplinary measures against Kim, while others have called for a more cautious response, since punishment could make people view Kim as even more of a hero.
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