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Seoul mayor reported dead, after going missing and police search

South Korean Mayor Park Won-soon is reported to have died, after going missing on Thursday.
Image: Mayor of Seoul Park Won-soon had been tipped as a potential presidential candidate in 2022.
Mayor of Seoul, Park Won-soon in Paris, France, on in March 2017.Aurelien Morissard/IP3 / Getty Images file

SEOUL — The Mayor of Seoul Park Won-soon is reported to have died after going missing, South Korean News agency Yonhap, reported on Thursday.

Police say the body of the missing mayor of South Korea’s capital, has been found in hills in northern Seoul, more than seven hours after they launched a massive search for him.

His daughter had called police on Thursday afternoon and said her father had given her "a will-like" verbal message before leaving their home hours earlier. The daughter didn't explain the contents of the message, said an officer at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency who was responsible for the search operation.

Authorities spent Thursday searching for the mayor, who vanished amid sexual harassment allegations. South Korean news reports say one of Park’s secretaries had lodged a complaint with police on Wednesday night over alleged sexual harassment.

Police said they were looking for Mayor Park Won-soon in wooded hills stretching across northern Seoul where his cellphone signal was last detected. Police officer Lee Byeong-seok told reporters that Park was last identified by a security camera at 10:53 a.m. at the entrance to the hills.

About 600 police and fire officers using drones searched unsuccessfully for hours Thursday evening. Fire officer Jeong Jin-hyang said rescuers were using dogs to search dangerous areas on the hills.

Kim Ji-hyeong, an official from the Seoul Metropolitan Government, confirmed that Park did not show up for work on Thursday because of unspecified reasons and canceled all his schedules, including a meeting with a presidential official at his Seoul City Hall office.

Image: Mayor of Seoul Park Won-soon missing
Police officers stand guard in front of the house of Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon in Seoul, South Korea, on Thursday.Park Ju-sung / Newsis via AP

A longtime civic activist and human rights lawyer, Park was elected as Seoul mayor in 2011 and became the city’s first mayor to be voted into a third term in June last year.

A member of President Moon Jae-in’s liberal Democratic Party, Park has been considered a potential presidential hopeful for the liberals in the 2022 elections.

Park has mostly maintained his activist colors as mayor, criticizing what he described as the country’s growing social and economic inequalities and the traditionally corrupt ties between large businesses and politicians.

As a lawyer, he was credited for winning the country’s first sexual harassment conviction. He has also been an outspoken critic of Japan’s colonial-era policies toward Korea, including the mobilization of Korean and other women as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers.

During the earlier part of his mayoral terms, Park established himself as a fierce opponent of former conservative President Park Geun-hye and openly supported the millions of people who flooded the city streets in late 2016 and 2017, calling for her ouster over a corruption scandal.

Park Geun-hye was formally removed from office in March 2017 and is currently serving a decades-long prison term on bribery and other charges.

Seoul, a city of 10 million people, has been a new epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea since the Asian country eased its rigid social distancing rules in early May.

Authorities are struggling to trace contacts amid surges in cases linked to nightclubs and church services.