South Korean protesters clashed with police yesterday as they tried to disrupt the opening in Seoul of a Tokyo-funded foundation for women forced to work in Japanese wartime brothels.
The plight of the so-called “comfort women” is a hugely emotional issue that has marred relations between Seoul and Japan for decades and which, for many South Koreans, symbolises the abuses of Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.
Last December, the two nations reached a “final and irreversible” agreement, under which Tokyo offered an apology and 1bn yen ($8.5mn) to open the foundation for the dwindling number of comfort women who are still alive.
But the deal was condemned by some of the women and South Korean activists, who took issue with Japan’s refusal to accept formal legal responsibility.
“You can’t silence the victims with money!” scores of protestors chanted at yesterday’s opening event, which they picketed with banners reading: “This is not what the comfort women want!”
The Reconciliation and Healing Foundation tried to play down the protests, saying opposition to the deal with Tokyo was limited to a vocal minority.
“Some victims I met expressed gratitude for reaching the deal while they are alive,” the foundation’s head Kim Tae-Hyun told reporters. She said she had talked with 37 of the 40 surviving South Korean comfort women and claimed many of them supported the foundation.
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