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South Korean president's office denies U.S. hot mic insult, but many South Koreans aren't buying it

Seoul — South Korea's president has denied insulting key security ally the United States, claiming to have been mistranslated, prompting further domestic incredulity on Friday. Yoon Suk Yeol was overheard on a hot mic and seen on camera seemingly insulting U.S. lawmakers after briefly meeting with President Joe Biden at the Global Fund in New York.

Philanthropy Global Fund
From left, French President Emmanuel Macron, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, President Joe Biden, Connie Mudenda (RED) ambassador and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol pose for photos during the Global Fund's Seventh Replenishment Conference, September 21, 2022, in New York. Evan Vucci/AP

"How could Biden not lose damn face if these f****rs do not pass it in Congress?" he appeared to be saying about Mr. Biden's drive to increase the U.S. contribution to the Global Fund, which would require congressional approval.

The video quickly went viral in South Korea, with a YouTube video racking up five million views in less than a day and the Korean expletive Yoon purportedly used trending on Twitter.

But the president's office spokeswoman, Kim Eun-hye, said Yoon had "no reason to talk about the U.S. or utter the word 'Biden.'"

Speaking at a press briefing in New York on Thursday, Kim claimed that Yoon did not actually say "Biden" but a similar-sounding Korean word, and that he was referring to South Korean, not U.S., lawmakers. Yoon also pledged more support for the Global Fund from his country at the event this week, and he will face a political battle getting South Korea's lawmakers in the National Assembly to approve it. 

South Korea's President Yoon Suk-yeol holds first official news conference, in Seoul
South Korea's President Yoon Suk Yeol during his first official news conference since taking office in May, marking 100 days in office, in Seoul, South Korea on August 17, 2022. Chung Sung-Jun/Poll/Reuters

One ruling-party parliamentarian suggested the television station that first reported the hot mic comments should be prosecuted.

"MBC should gravely be held accountable for its report that has damaged the irreplaceable U.S.-Korea alliance," wrote MP Yoon Sang-hyun on his Facebook account.

But online, many expressed doubt about the government's response.

"It is utterly shameful and embarrassing for our kids that our presidential office has come up with such an excuse," one commentator wrote on YouTube.

"I've listened to it 10 times now. It's 'Biden' for sure," another added.

The opposition said Yoon's official denial was akin to telling South Koreans they were "hearing impaired," Democratic Party MP Chun Jae-soo said in a radio interview on Friday.

U.S. and South Korean forces practice response to North Korea attack 03:51

The United States is a key South Korean key security ally, with Washington stationing about 27,000 troops in the country to help counter nuclear-armed North Korea.

Yoon, a former prosecutor, is struggling with low domestic approval ratings, with the latest survey Friday after the hot mic incident showing it stood at 28%.

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