Monk immolates himself in rivers protest

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Monk immolates himself in rivers protest

A Buddhist monk burnt himself to death Monday to protest the administration’s controversial four rivers project, according to police.

Locals found 47-year-old monk Moonsu of the Jogye Order, Korea’s largest Buddhist sect, dead near a stream in Gunwi County, North Gyeongsang, at around 3 p.m. on Monday. He left a suicide note inside his clothes that read, “The Lee Myung-bak administration must stop its four rivers restoration project immediately, eradicate corruption and do its best for poor and underprivileged people instead of the rich.” The note also stated that the monk felt sorry for his family as well as fellow Buddhists.

Last year, president’s administration started the four rivers project to restore the nation’s major rivers - the Han, Geum, Nakdong and Yeongsan. The project has met fierce criticism from opposition parties and civic groups, which protest that ecosystems in and around the rivers will be ruined by this project. They also insist that the government is wasting valuable tax money on a futile effort.

Police said they confirmed that Moonsu bought gasoline from a gas station at around 7:20 a.m. on Monday and seemed to have set fired to himself. “Looking at various evidence, we suspect that he burnt himself to death.”

The monk entered the Buddhist priesthood in 1986 and went on to practice in temples including Haein and Tongdo. From 2006 to 2007, he was the head monk at Daesan Temple in North Gyeongsang.

The local Buddhist community mourned their loss as the Jogye Order sent monks to North Gyeongsang, where Moonsu was found. The Jogye Order announced its official stance on the monk’s death yesterday, stating, “We are truly mourning the loss of monk Moonsu and wish him a peaceful passage to death.”

Around 20 Buddhists from various groups including the Buddhist Ecology Federation held a press conference at Jogye Temple in central Seoul yesterday.

“Monk Moonsu’s self-immolation threw an important question toward us as religious people concerning the value of life,” said monk Sugyeong, head of the Buddhist Economy Federation during the press conference.

Meanwhile, voices of opposition toward the government’s four rivers project became stronger yesterday. The Busan citizens’ group against the four rivers project held an emergency press conference in front of Busan’s city hall urging a halt to the restoration. The civic association Geumganggwon, composed of 45 different groups from the Daejeon, North and South Chungcheong and North Jeolla areas, also held a press conference in front of South Chungcheong provincial office to state their opposition to the project.

By Cho Jae-eun []
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