Protesters at packed Wednesday rally slam deal

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Protesters at packed Wednesday rally slam deal

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Two women who were forced to serve in Japanese military brothels denounce the recent deal between Korea and Japan over the comfort women issue during a weekly rally on Wednesday in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. [NEWSIS]

The regular weekly rally across from the Japanese Embassy in Jongno District, central Seoul, saw one of its largest turnouts in years this Wednesday, when hundreds of people convened to oppose a recent agreement between Seoul and Tokyo to conclude the long-running dispute on Japan’s sexual enslavement of tens of thousands of Korean women during World War II.

According to police, some 700 people - mostly students and activists - partook in the 1,211th demonstration hosted by the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, also known as the Korean Council.

The prominent nongovernmental organization supports the wartime survivors, who are euphemistically referred to as “comfort women.” Since Jan. 8, 1992, it has spearheaded hour-long demonstrations every Wednesday at noon in front of the Japanese Embassy.

Around 100 people usually show up.

The latest demonstration, the last to be held this year, went on for more than two hours, with an army of police officers standing by in case tensions escalated. No one was injured or arrested.

The crowd, wearing thick coats and down parkas to fend off the mid-winter breeze, occupied one of the two lanes of the narrow road stretching between the embassy and the Peace Statue and held politically charged placards and portraits of the former comfort women who died earlier this year.

The Peace Statue, also known as the Pyeonghwabi, is a life-size bronze statue of a 13-year-old girl in traditional Korean attire that represents the tens of thousands of Korean comfort women who were forced into military brothels during the war. It has been standing across from the embassy since Dec. 14, 2011.

While Tokyo has long demanded its removal, Korean Foreign Affairs Minister Yun Byung-se said Monday that Seoul will “acknowledge” Japan’s concern and “negotiate with relevant organizations on how to deal with the issue,” leaving open the possibility of a relocation or its removal.

For two hours on Wednesday, the Korean Council invited a number of people onto a makeshift stage to face the protesters, as two surviving Korean comfort women - 88-year-old Lee Yong-soo and 87-year-old Gil Won-ok - looked on, seated on chairs and covered in blankets.

The two victims wore mostly grim expressions, their eyes retaining an air of solemnity as a girls’ high school choir sang songs, the son of another wartime survivor read out a personal letter and the activists pledged to boost their efforts to cast a brighter light on the issue they say has been pending for far too long.

“She lived for 90 years, but she was never mentally at ease after the age of 16,” said Lee Dong-ju, whose mother Lee Hyo-sun was the third of nine former comfort women who died this year.

She was forced to work in the military brothels as a teenager.

Lee Yong-soo, one of the most vocal survivors, sent her condolences to the fallen victims. “[Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe] is out of his mind,” she said with tears in her eyes. “[He is] completely ignoring the fact that [his forefathers] have committed a sin.”

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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