Protesters clash with police in South Korea as Japan-funded 'comfort women' foundation opens in Seoul

Police take away a South Korean protester occupying the venue as the protesters denounce a deal between Seoul and Tokyo on resolving a long-running row over "comfort women".
Police take away a South Korean protester occupying the venue as the protesters denounce a deal between Seoul and Tokyo on resolving a long-running row over "comfort women".PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korean protesters clashed with the police on Thursday (July 28) as they tried to disrupt the opening in Seoul of a Tokyo-funded foundation for women forced to work in Japanese wartime brothels.

Last December, the two nations reached a "final and irreversible" agreement, under which Tokyo offered an apology and a 1 billion yen to open the foundation for the dwindling number of so-called "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 protesters chanted at Thursday's opening event, which they picketed with banners reading: "This is not what the comfort women want!"

Several college students forced their way into the venue where foundation officials were due to hold a press conference, and had to be forcibly removed by police.

"Listen to the voices of the victims!" one protester shouted tearfully as police carried her and other activists out by their arms and legs.

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.

"The deal is not completely satisfactory... but we shouldn't let these controversies put out this small light of hope that we managed to find," she added.

Ms Kim said the foundation's money would be used to fulfil the remaining comfort women's last wishes as many of them were ill and impoverished.

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 1910-1945 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.

Mainstream historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea but also other parts of Asia including China, were forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War II.