Man self-im­mo­lates at anti-Ja­pan rally


An 80-year-old South Korean man was un­con­scious and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties af­ter set­ting him­self on fire dur­ing an anti-Ja­pan protest in Seoul on Wed­nes­day, hos­pi­tal of­fi­cials said.

The rally, held in front of the Ja­panese Em­bassy and at­tended by hun­dreds of peo­ple, was staged days be­fore the 70th an­niver­sary of the Al­lied vic­tory in World War II that freed the Korean Penin­sula from Ja­panese colo­nial rule.

Kim Sun-min, who was among sev­eral peo­ple who rushed over to help put out the flames, said he didn’t no­tice the man, iden­ti­fied by po­lice as Choi Yeon-yeol, be­fore he set him­self ablaze on a flower bed near the rally. Lumps of burned cot­ton and a small glass bot­tle that reeked of ga­so­line were found at the scene. The rally con­tin­ued af­ter Choi was taken to the hos­pi­tal.

Choi suf­fered third-de­gree burns on his face, neck, up­per body and arms and was re­ly­ing on a breath­ing ma­chine af­ter his lungs de­te­ri­o­rated, said an of­fi­cial at Seoul’s Hal­lym Univer­sity Han­gang Sa­cred Heart Hos­pi­tal, who didn’t want to be named, cit­ing of­fice rules.

Choi’s ex­act mo­tives were not im­me­di­ately clear. A five- page state­ment found in his bag, ap­par­ently writ­ten by him­self, con­tained con­demn­ing re­marks about Ja­pan over its stance on is­sues re­lated to its colo­nial rule of Korea and wartime con­duct, ac­cord­ing to Seoul po­lice of­fi­cial Seo Hyeon-su.

Since 1992, ac­tivists have or­ga­nized weekly protests in front of the Ja­panese Em­bassy to de­mand jus­tice for South Korean women who were forced to work as sex slaves for the Ja­panese mil­i­tary dur­ing the war, and the gath­er­ings have been mostly peace­ful. The turnout was par­tic­u­larly high on Wed­nes­day as the coun­tries ap­proached the an­niver­sary.

Many South Kore­ans har­bor deep re­sent­ment to­ward Ja­pan over its colo­nial oc­cu­pa­tion. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of Kore­ans were forced to fight as front-line sol­diers, work un­der slave-la­bor con­di­tions or serve as pros­ti­tutes in broth­els op­er­ated by the Ja­panese mil­i­tary dur­ing the war.

Such sen­ti­ment has strength­ened in re­cent years over what South Kore­ans feel are at­tempts by Ja­pan to down­play its wartime con­duct, as well as Tokyo’s ter­ri­to­rial claims to a set of small islets oc­cu­pied by South Korea.

Protests some­times t urn vi­o­lent. Scuf­fles with po­lice are com­mon and de­mon­stra­tors have sev­ered their own fin­gers or hurled ex­cre­ment at the em­bassy in the past.


A South Korean man, left, sets him­self on fire as a woman tries to ex­tin­guish him dur­ing an anti-Ja­pan rally de­mand­ing full com­pen­sa­tion and an apol­ogy for wartime sex slaves from the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment in front of the Ja­panese Em­bassy in Seoul, South Korea, Wed­nes­day, Aug. 12.

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