Self-immolation at Seoul ′comfort women′ protest | News | DW | 12.08.2015
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Self-immolation at Seoul 'comfort women' protest

A man is expected to survive after setting himself ablaze outside Japan's embassy in Seoul. Thousands had gathered to protest Japan's sexual enslavement of women during World War II.

A man set himself ablaze during a protest calling for Japan to apologize for forcing Korean women to work in military brothels during World War II, days ahead of the anniversary of the end of hostilities. The self-immolation came during a regular weekly demonstration outside the embassy ahead of the August 15 anniversary marking 70 years since the end of Japan's colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula.

Television news footage showed other protesters using a blanket and bottled water to try to douse the flames before the emergency services arrived. Firefighters eventually removed the man by stretcher to an ambulance, which rushed him to a hospital.

The Yonhap news agency identified the man as an 81-year-old surnamed Choi from the southern city of Gwangju. Wednesday's protest had drawn more than 1,000 protesters to the embassy ahead of Saturday's 70th anniversary of the end of Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.

Trend of self-immolation

Koreans say Japan has insufficiently atoned for the enslavement of "comfort women" assigned to military brothels. Japanese officials insist that the country settled the issue in a 1965 bilateral agreement that restored diplomatic ties between the two nations, with Tokyo making a total payment worth $800 million in grants or loans to its former colony.

The issue has strained relations between the countries for years, with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye saying she could not meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe until the nation made full amends. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on Japanese officials to formally apologize.

Self-immolation became particularly common in South Korea during the pro-democracy movement of the 1980s and early-'90s, when a number of student activists set themselves on fire during public demonstrations. However, South Koreans have set themselves ablaze for reasons other than politics.

In May, a 56-year-old man died after setting himself on fire in a dispute with his landlord. The last such self-immolation outside the embassy happened 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.

mkg/kms (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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