A civic group tried to place statues of former presidents Syngman Rhee and Park Chung-hee, Friday, next to the famous girl statue in front of the Japanese Consulate in Busan, but the attempt failed.
According to news reports, the group, led by a man surnamed Choi, was blocked by almost 40 supporters of the girl statue. The police reported a mild clash between them but no injuries.
The girl statue signifies former sexual slaves mobilized by the Japanese military during its occupation of Korea. The girl statue is not allowed there by law, but the district government won’t act to remove it for fear of public outrage.
“I don’t hate the former sex slaves,” Choi said upon his arrival. “But it’s time to accept Japan’s apology and move on. Please stop using these victims for politics. I am proud to erect the statues of Park and Rhee.”
The statue supporters were quick to condemn him. “Go away! It’s you who is trying to politicize the issue, not us,” people shouted at him before surrounding him to take away his statues. In the end, the statue of Rhee was taken by the district government, while Choi kept the Park statue and left the scene in a taxi.
“All this happened because there’s no law protecting the statue,” Chang Seon-wha, an activist advocating for the sex slavery issue, told online news agency News1, urging the government to act.
Choi has shown his opposition to the statue before. He brought trash bags and old furniture to the site and wrote anti-statue messages on them.
The statue erected in January was also a diplomatically contentious point.
In protest, the Japanese government recalled its top envoy to Korea. Ambassador Yasumasa Nagamine returned to Korea earlier last week, together with Japanese Consul General to Busan Yasuhiro Morimoto.
The foreign ministry in Seoul told the district government to remove the statue, citing diplomatic protocols, but instead received a barrage of public criticism. Critics said the foreign ministry was not working for the interest of Korea.
The sex slavery victims went through the atrocity from the early 1930s till 1945. An accurate number is unavailable but estimates say almost 200,000 women and young girls from China, Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan and others were tricked or forced to provide sex for Japanese troops.
On Wednesday, the Japanese consul general visited the district head Park Sam-seok in Busan to press for the statue’s removal. “In Japan, there is unfavorable sentiment toward the statue in front of the consulate,” the consul general was quoted as saying by Yonhap.