Fury over S. Korea presidential hopeful satire

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South Korea's ruling party has threatened to sue an artist who painted its presidential candidate giving birth to her father, former dictator Park Chung-Hee, likening the work to Nazi propaganda.

The painting by left-wing artist Hong Sung-Dam is being shown as part of an exhibition in Seoul that offers a critical perspective on Park Chung-Hee's 1961-79 military rule.

It shows Park's never-married daughter Park Geun-Hye, who is the ruling New Frontier Party candidate for the December 19 presidential election, giving birth in a hospital maternity ward surrounded by doctors and nurses.

The new-born baby bears a close resemblance to her father and is shown wearing his trademark sunglasses.

Outraged ruling party officials condemned the painting as offensive and a piece of "evil" propaganda aimed at tarnishing their candidate's image ahead of the vote.

"Art, once used for political propaganda, is no longer art. The painting reminds me of (Joseph) Goebbels who massacred countless Jews by using political propaganda for Nazis," party member Kwon Young-Se told reporters Monday.

"We plan to take all possible legal actions against Hong's painting on behalf of not only Park Geun-Hye but also all women," he said, arguing the artwork denigrated "the most sacred moment in women's lives".

Hong dismissed the criticism, saying the work was a satirical comment on the way South Korean society and politics are still dominated by memories of Park Chung-Hee's rule.

"If a painting like this should be punished by law, then all political cartoons in newspapers should be punished nearly every single day," Hong told AFP on Tuesday.

"Park's supporters tend to blindly worship her as if she is a goddess... but that's not the way voters in a democratic society should support a politician," he said.

Hong was jailed from 1989 to 1992 for producing art praising North Korea after he painted a mural portraying pro-democracy activities under military rule. A copy of the work was sent to the North by activists.

Hong said he was tortured by Seoul's secret police and forced to confess to spying for Pyongyang. He was later acquitted of most of the charges by the Supreme Court.

The gallery that organised the exhibition said all the works would remain on display until the show's scheduled end on Sunday.

Park Geun-Hye's campaign has been constantly shadowed by her father's legacy.

Widely respected for transforming the impoverished, war-ravaged nation into an economic juggernaut, he is equally reviled in some quarters for human rights abuses during his iron-fisted rule.

Last month, Park publicly apologised to the relatives of victims of her father's regime and acknowledged that his autocratic style had damaged the constitution.

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