80-year-old immolates himself at Japan embassy

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80-year-old immolates himself at Japan embassy

An 80-year-old man set himself on fire during a weekly Wednesday demonstration held in front of the Japanese Embassy in central Seoul to demand an apology from Japan for its wartime sexual slavery.

Around 1,000 people were gathered in front of the embassy in Jongno District when a man surnamed Choi doused his body with flammable liquid and tried to immolate himself at around 12:50 p.m.

Participants in the rally and policemen stationed around the embassy helped put out the fire. Choi was transferred to a hospital immediately. He was in critical condition as of press time.

Hallym University Medical Center said in a press briefing Wednesday afternoon that Choi was being treated in the intensive care unit and had serious burns all over his body.

“The patient’s life cannot be guaranteed taking into consideration his age and the seriousness of his burns,” said Hallym’s Dr. Yang Hyeong-tae.

Over half of Choi’s body was covered in burns, Yang added.

Police said a statement written by Choi was found in a red bag discovered next to where he had been standing. The statement was said to have referred to the issue of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery.

The bag also contained identification and a suicide note, according to police, who plan to further investigate why Choi set himself on fire.

The Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, a civic organization, has held the Wednesday demonstrations since 1992 to demand Tokyo officially apologize and compensate the Korean women who were forced to serve as sex slaves for the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II, euphemistically known as comfort women.

Choi, a resident of Gwangju, has been involved in another local civic organization’s efforts to support comfort women victims.

Yoon Mi-hyang, president of the council, told reporters that Choi “came up to Seoul from Gwangju at least once a month to participate in the Wednesday demonstrations.”

The Korean government has been urging Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to apologize for the military sex slave issue in the days leading up to the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from colonial rule on Aug. 15, 1945, on Saturday.

The day before, Friday, marks the third International Memorial Day for “Comfort Women.”

On that same day, Japanese Prime Minister Abe will make a statement to mark the 70th anniversary of Tokyo’s defeat in World War II, which ended the country’s 1910-45 colonial rule over Korea. Abe’s statement will play an important role in the direction of bilateral relations between the two neighboring countries.

A group of comfort women victims involved in a lawsuit against the Japanese government requested Seoul take more action against Japan and urged the Blue House to “personally step forward” to help with their case.

The women’s attorney said Wednesday that the group of 10 women sent a five-page joint letter addressed to President Park Geun-hye earlier this month.

The lawyer, Kim Kang-won, said the letter requested the Korean government “propose to the Japanese government to appear in court proceedings and mediation.” It added that if the Korean government requests Tokyo directly, it will not be able to ignore the court’s petitions to partake in mediation.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry has repeatedly ignored calls by the Seoul Central District Court for Tokyo to partake in the proceedings.

In August 2012, 12 Korean victims of sexual slavery filed a damages suit with the Seoul Central District Court requesting compensation of 100 million won ($85,000) for each victim from the Japanese government.

Tokyo, however, has rejected Korean court petitions, claiming the Korean judicial system does not extend to Japan.

Only 10 of the original 12 plaintiffs, all over 80 years old, are alive.

There are only 47 surviving Korean victims from the 238 women registered with the government as victims of sexual slavery.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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