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Korean former 'comfort women' hold 1,000th protest
Agence France Presse - December 14, 2011
"Apologize!" shouted five women in their 80s or 90s and an estimated 500 supporters, waving banners reading "Compensate" and "Admit the war crime."
Demonstrators campaigning to publicize World War II crimes braved near-freezing temperatures to unveil a "peace monument" across the street from the mission, despite protests from the Japanese government over the statue.
The five former sex slaves known euphemistically as "comfort women" hugged the replica of a teenage Korean girl in traditional costume.
"Young girls were dragged to other countries as slaves of the Japanese military," said a frail Kim Bok-Dong, 85. "I demand that the ambassador of Japan tell the Japanese government to apologize before we all die."
The oldest of the Korean former "comfort women" died aged 94 earlier this month and another aged 87 died Tuesday, leaving just 63 survivors out of 234 who had registered with the Seoul government.
In a rare move, a North Korean association for former comfort women sent a letter of support. "The Wednesday demonstration that has lasted for 20 years is an unbearable blaze of anger against sexual slavery crimes committed by Japan that have trampled on national pride," the group said in a faxed message.
Historians say that during World War II, about 200,000 women from Korea, China, the Philippines and other countries were drafted to work in Japanese military brothels. The issue came to widespread notice in the early 1990s after some victims found the courage to go public.
Japan has apologized for the military's crimes against the women but denies official responsibility for running the brothels. It has rejected South Korea's proposal of bilateral talks about the women's demands.
South Korea's foreign ministry said Tuesday it was inexcusable that the issue was still not settled. "It will be the 1,000th protest tomorrow but we find it very disappointing that the Japanese government has not reacted to this issue," said spokesman Cho Byung-Jae.
Tokyo, which colonized Korea from 1910-45, says all potential individual claims for wartime suffering were dealt with through treaties normalizing ties with other Asian countries. On Wednesday it called for the statue to be removed.
"It is very regrettable that they went ahead with constructing the comfort woman statue," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura in Tokyo. "We repeatedly called on the South Korean government to stop the construction until today. We will make a request (for removal) to the South Korean government through diplomatic channels."
In the southern South Korean coastal city of Tongyeong, where comfort women were shipped to Japan in 1930, hundreds of activists formed a human chain with placards and candles. Events marking the 1,000th weekly protest were also staged in five other cities, Yonhap news agency reported.