(ATTN: UPDATES with Yoon's apology in paras 14-15)
By Lee Haye-ah
SEOUL, Oct. 22 (Yonhap) -- Yoon Seok-youl, a leading opposition presidential contender, drew fire Friday after a photo of his dog being fed an apple sparked speculation that he likened the people to a dog following a reluctant apology for making insensitive remarks about a former dictator.
In Korean, "apology" and "apple" are homonyms and the fact that Yoon's dog Tory was given the fruit only hours after the candidate issued a public apology led to criticism that Yoon was not truly sorry and dismissed the people as dogs.
The photo was posted on an Instagram account under Tory's name on Thursday night and later deleted.
"Such mockery of the people should really not be done," Rep. Song Young-gil, the chairman of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), said during a party meeting. "If he wants to apologize, he should do it properly."
Yoon's rivals within his own People Power Party (PPP) took the criticism a step further.
"If this isn't saying 'apologies are for dogs,' what is this?" a spokesperson for PPP presidential contender Hong Joon-pyo said in a statement.
The spokesperson added, "(Yoon) is treating people who don't understand his mistakes and criticize them as dogs. How is such a candidate fit to be a presidential candidate of the People Power Party?"
The campaigns of former PPP Rep. Yoo Seong-min and former Jeju Gov. Won Hee-ryong, the two other contenders running in the PPP presidential primary, released similar statements, saying responsibility does not stop at whoever handles Yoon's social media accounts.
The apology in question followed criticism that Yoon praised former authoritarian President Chun Doo-hwan by claiming many people believe he conducted state affairs well, except for his bloody suppression of a 1980 pro-democracy uprising in the southwestern city of Gwangju and his seizing power through a coup.
Yoon initially expressed "regret" over the remarks but followed up with an apology.
In a message sent to reporters, Yoon's campaign said the photo was posted by a staff member who "took it lightly" and deleted it after the person recognized their "mistake."
"We have used Tory's Instagram account as a personified and ironic communication tool," the campaign said. "We will overhaul our system. We apologize deeply for causing controversy."
The account was later closed.
Yoon also apologized publicly for his "carelessness."
"It was me who had the story about apples posted on Instagram. Since a campaign staff member told me a plan to post the story and (I) approved it, I'm the one who should take all responsibility," he said during a TV debate for the PPP's presidential primary.
Gyeonggi Gov. Lee Jae-myung, the DP presidential nominee, traveled to Gwangju, the site of the ruthless crackdown that left more than 200 dead and 1,800 others wounded.
"Yoon Seok-youl is inflicting a second round of injury with the photo," Lee wrote on Facebook, saying South Korea should adopt a law similar to an anti-Nazi law in Europe to punish all praise of Chun.
PPP Chairman Lee Jun-seok left a cryptic message on Facebook on Friday morning.
"I woke up this morning to something that defies common sense ... I'm at a loss," he wrote.
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