Op­po­si­tion to sex slave deal mounts

Most of cit­i­zens op­pose agree­ment reached with Ja­pan on com­pen­sa­tion for ‘com­fort women’

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Seoul

South Korea’s op­po­si­tion politi­cians on Wed­nes­day called for nul­li­fy­ing a set­tle­ment reached be­tween Seoul and Tokyo on com­pen­sa­tion for South Korean “com­fort women” who were forced into sex­ual slav­ery by Ja­pan’s mil­i­tary in World War II.

Their state­ments on the an­niver­sary of the deal came amid grow­ing ef­forts to erase some of the key poli­cies of im­peached Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye. Fac­ing po­lit­i­cal and public pres­sure, the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry on Tues­day back­tracked from a much-crit­i­cized plan to re­quire mid­dle and high schools to use only state-is­sued his­tory text­books from next year.

‘Sell­ing honor away’

Woo Sang-ho, floor leader of the main op­po­si­tion Demo­cratic Party, said the party will work to in­val­i­date the sex slave agree­ment if it wins the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions that could take place in just months, echo­ing sim­i­lar prom­ises made by the party’s po­ten­tial can­di­dates.

Ex-min­is­ter de­tained

Kim Gyeong-rok, spokesman of the Peo­ple’s Party, crit­i­cized the Park ad­min­is­tra­tion for “sell­ing away” the vic­tims’ honor and dig­nity, and said the is­sue couldn’t be re­solved with­out Ja­pan of­fer­ing a sin­cere apol­ogy and ad­mit­ting le­gal re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Un­der the agree­ment, Ja­pan pledged to give 1 bil­lion yen ($8.5 mil­lion) to a foun­da­tion to help sup­port the for­mer sex slaves. South Korea, in ex­change, vowed to re­frain from crit­i­ciz­ing Ja­pan over the is­sue. The deal was widely crit­i­cized in South Korea, where many thought the govern­ment set­tled for far too less.

On Wed­nes­day, hun­dreds of stu­dents and civic group ac­tivists as well as or­di­nary peo­ple held their “Wed­nes­day rally” in front of the Ja­panese em­bassy in cen­tral Seoul to protest against what they claimed was the uni­lat­eral, dis­grace­ful deal.

Most of South Kore­ans op­pose the agree­ment, uni­lat­er­ally pushed by the Park govern­ment with no par­lia­men­tary ap­proval. The Ja­panese leader has yet to of­fer a sin­cere apol­ogy for past bru­tal­i­ties and ac­knowl­edge his Cabi­net’s le­gal re­spon­si­bil­ity for the wartime crime against hu­man­ity.

South Korean in­ves­ti­ga­tors on Wed­nes­day de­tained the coun­try’s for­mer health min­is­ter as they ex­pand their in­quiry into a cor­rup­tion scan­dal in­volv­ing im­peached Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye.

The spe­cial pros­e­cu­tion team now has 48 hours to de­cide whether to re­quest a for­mal ar­rest war­rant for Moon Hyung-pyo. Moon faces al­le­ga­tions that he pres­sured the Na­tional Pen­sion Ser­vice to sup­port a con­tro­ver­sial merger deal be­tween two Sam­sung af­fil­i­ates last year, even though the fund’s stake in one of the com­pa­nies lost an es­ti­mated hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in value.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors also sum­moned Kim Sang-ryul, Park’s for­mer se­nior sec­re­tary for ed­u­ca­tion and cul­ture, to look into al­le­ga­tions that the pres­i­den­tial of­fice kept a “black­list” of cul­tural fig­ures deemed as un­friendly to Park’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and de­nied them state sup­port.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors have asked the Fi­nan­cial Su­per­vi­sory Ser­vice to pro­vide per­sonal wealth state­ments of about 40 peo­ple who are sus­pected of help­ing Park’s jailed friend, Choi Soon-sil, amass an il­licit for­tune through her con­nec­tions with the pres­i­dent. Ele­phants com­pete for a ball dur­ing a soc­cer match as part of 13th Ele­phant Fes­ti­val in Chit­wan, Nepal, on Tues­day.

39 sex slaves now alive

In 2016 alone, seven aged vic­tims passed away, re­duc­ing the num­ber of sur­vivors to 39 among 238 South Korean women who had iden­ti­fied them­selves as for­mer sex slaves.

It’s un­clear whether South Korea could re­verse an agree­ment both govern­ments de­scribed as “ir­re­versible”. Park’s con­ser­va­tive rul­ing party crit­i­cized Woo, ac­cus­ing him of at­tack­ing the deal with­out propos­ing al­ter­na­tives and act­ing like his party al­ready won the pres­i­den­tial race.

Park, who was im­peached by the coun­try’s op­po­si­tion-con­trolled Par­lia­ment over a cor­rup­tion scan­dal on Dec 9, had en­dorsed the state his­tory text­books, say­ing it would in­spire pa­tri­o­tism in stu­dents. Her crit­ics saw the books at an at­tempt to white­wash the bru­tal dic­ta­tor­ships that pre­ceded the coun­try’s bloody tran­si­tion to­ward democ­racy in the 1980s.

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Lee Joon-sik said schools could keep us­ing his­tory text­books made by pri­vate pub­lish­ers next year, al­though they can also choose to use state text­books on a trial ba­sis.

South Korea’s Con­sti­tu­tional Court has up to six months to de­cide whether Park should per­ma­nently step down or be re­in­stated. If she is for­mally re­moved from of­fice, a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion must be held within 60 days.

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