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North Korea disparages newly elected defector's district

North Korean defector Thae Yong-ho was elected to South Korean parliament this week. Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE
North Korean defector Thae Yong-ho was elected to South Korean parliament this week. Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE

April 17 (UPI) -- North Korea is condemning the wealthy district in Seoul that elected high-profile defector Thae Yong-ho to a seat in South Korean parliament.

Thae, who fled Pyongyang's embassy in London and wrote a memoir about the North Korean regime, was not mentioned in the statement from North Korean propaganda service Meari on Friday.

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North Korean media did say the Seoul district of Gangnam, where Thae ran for office, was a "den of corruption" where the wealthy "gamble openly and use drugs."

"According to recent South Korean media reports the district of Gangnam in Seoul is a den of corruption, and is the target of ridicule and criticism from people of all walks of life," Meari said.

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"Members of the wealthy and special classes knee deep in corruption live in the district, swarming the area, as various pleasure facilities and red-light districts operate obstreperously."

Meari also said Choi Soon-sil, the South Korean woman linked to corruption scandals that culminated in the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye in 2017, had lived a "life of opulence" in Gangnam while manipulating the former South Korean leader.

Thae ran as a candidate of the main opposition United Future Party, a conservative faction that will occupy far fewer seats than the ruling Democratic Party, South Korea's liberals.

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Thae's victory in the election is being met with some cynicism among South Koreans who may think he is not qualified for office.

Local television network JTBC reported Friday a petition uploaded to the presidential Blue House website called for the "mandatory construction" of an apartment complex for North Korean defectors in Gangnam, where real estate prices remain the highest in the country.

The petition has gathered 90,000 signatures, but the anonymous posters may have been mocking Thae's defector status, according to the report.

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Lee Woo-young, a professor of North Korean studies in Seoul, said the target is Thae's party, and not defectors.

Thae's disclosure of personal assets also came under scrutiny earlier this week, ahead of the elections.

Seoul Shinmun said Monday Thae reported assets worth $1.5 million, after resettling in the South in 2016, including financial assets worth $800,000.

Thae was a high-ranking North Korean diplomat in Europe prior to his defection.

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