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'Comfort women' furore

May 24, 2013

Two Korean women who were used as sex slaves during World War II have cancelled a meeting with the outspoken mayor of Osaka. Nationalist politician Toru Hashimoto said the practice had been necessary.

Former South Korean comfort woman Kil Un-ock, center, who was forced to serve for the Japanese troops as a sexual slave during World War II, shouts slogans during a rally against the recent comment of Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto in front of Japanese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, May 15, 2013. The Japanese outspoken nationalist mayor said on Monday the Japanese military's forced prostitution of Asian women before and during World War II was necessary to "maintain discipline" in the ranks and provide rest for soldiers who risked their lives in battle. The placard at right reads: "Apologizes for Japan's aggressive history." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo

Kil Won-ok (pictured center) and Kim Bok-dong, both now in their eighties, said in a statement on Friday - the day of the planned meeting - that they had been heartbroken by the "outrageous remarks" of Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto.

In his comments, Hashimoto said that it was "clear to anyone" that the use of so-called comfort women in military brothels had been necessary to maintain military discipline. His remarks provoked particular outrage in China and South Korea, where bitter memories of Japan's imperial rule during the war persist.

In a statement, the women demanded that Hashimoto, also co-leader of the nationalist Japanese Restoration Party, apologize and resign as the mayor of Japan's second-largest city, Osaka.

"We cannot compromise our painful past as victims and the reality that we still live today for Mayor Hashimoto's apology performance," the women said.

"We do not want to kill ourselves twice," they said. "If he truly feels sorry to us and regretful, he must take back his criminal comments and make a formal apology. He should hold himself responsible for his wrongdoing and retire from politics."

Late agreement to meet

The women had been refused a meeting with Hashimoto - who has been touted as a possible future Japanese prime minister - last year. They were only granted the appointment on the day Hashimoto made his comments.

Both women have said in accounts of their ordeal that, as teenagers, they were forced into sexual slavery after being given factory jobs. They have been regular protesters outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul, claiming that a 1993 apology by the Japanese government had been insufficient.

Hashimoto said on Friday he was sorry that the women's feelings were hurt, but declined to withdraw the remarks. He described the cancellation of the meeting - which was to have been televised - as "very unfortunate."

Historians believe that as many as 200,000 women were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military, both before and during the war.

rc/hc (AP, AFP, Reuters)