Monk sets himself on fire in protest

SEOUL • A South Korean Buddhist monk is in critical condition after setting himself on fire during a mass protest against impeached President Park Geun Hye, officials said yesterday.

The monk, who is in his 60s and whose name was not released, set himself alight last Saturday night in central Seoul, where hundreds of thousands returned to the streets for the 11th week to demand Ms Park's ouster.

He left a note urging the authorities to arrest the scandal-hit President for committing "treason", the Yonhap news agency reported.

Ms Park was impeached by Parliament last month over an influence-peddling scandal that sparked a storm of public fury and nationwide protests, and the Constitutional Court now has to decide whether to confirm the impeachment.

The monk also slammed Ms Park as a "traitor" for forging a deal with Japan to settle compensation for women forced into sexual slavery for Japanese troops during the World War II, according to Yonhap.

Critics say the 2015 deal did not go far enough in holding Japan responsible for wartime abuses. Tensions between the two countries spiked last Friday when Tokyo recalled its ambassador over a statue of a "comfort woman".

The monk suffered third-degree burns across his body and remains unconscious, according to police and staff at Seoul National University Hospital, where he is being treated.

Self-immolation is not unheard of as a means of protest in the South, and was particularly common during the pro-democracy movement of the 1980s and early 1990s when a number of activists set themselves on fire during public demonstrations.

Ms Park is accused of colluding with confidante Choi Soon Sil to coerce top local companies to "donate" tens of millions of dollars to non-profit foundations which Choi, who is now on trial, then used as her personal ATMs.

Both women have denied any wrongdoing.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2017, with the headline 'Monk sets himself on fire in protest'. Print Edition | Subscribe