Man sets himself on fire outside Japanese embassy in Seoul

2015-08-12 10:57


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Seoul - An elderly South Korean man set himself on fire on Wednesday outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul during a protest over Japan's forced recruitment of sex slaves for military brothels during World War II.

Around 1 000 protesters had gathered at the mission to push for reparations ahead of Saturday's 70th anniversary of the end of Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.

The demonstration was in full swing, when the man, identified by local news reports as an 81-year-old activist, surnamed Choi set himself alight from a half-hidden position next to a tree on a grass verge.

Television news footage showed other protesters reacting immediately, using a blanket and bottled water in a desperate effort to douse the flames before the emergency services arrived.

Firefighters eventually removed the man by stretcher to an ambulance, which rushed him to hospital.

Yonhap cited medical staff as saying he had suffered third-degree burns to most of his body, but was still conscious and not believed to be in a life-threatening condition.

Political protest

Protests on the so-called "comfort women" issue are held once a month outside the embassy, but Wednesday's event was much larger than usual due to the looming anniversary, and three of the 47 surviving South Korean comfort women took part.

Yonhap said Choi was from the southern city of Gwangju, but travelled to Seoul once a month for the regular protests.

It is not uncommon for protesters to set themselves alight in South Korea and it was particularly prevalent during the pro-democracy movement of the 1980s and early-90s, when a number of student activists did so during public demonstrations.

Such acts are not limited to political protest. In May this year, a 56-year-old disabled man died after setting himself on fire in a dispute with his landlord, and a 29-year-old killed himself the same way in March after his girlfriend rejected a marriage proposal.

The last such protest outside the Japanese embassy was in 2005, when a 54-year-old man set himself on fire during a protest over Japan's claim to a set of South Korean-controlled islets in the East Sea (Sea of Japan).

South Korea says Japan has still not done enough to atone for the forced recruitment of South Korean women to work in Japanese military brothels.

Japan insists the issue was settled in the 1965 bilateral agreement that restored diplomatic ties between the two nations, which saw Tokyo make a total payment of $800m in grants or loans to its former colony.

The issue has strained relations between Seoul and Tokyo for years with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye saying there can be no meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe until Japan makes full amends.

Read more on:    south korea  |  japan
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