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Gyeongju calls on presidential office to return Buddhist statue

A civic group in the southeastern city of Gyeongju said Tuesday it will form a committee with the city government and the city assembly as part of its efforts to have a ninth century Buddhist statue returned from the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul more than 100 years after it was displaced by a Japanese man.

    The committee, if launched, will visit the presidential office and related institutions to obtain the return of the statue to the city, the civic group told a press conference.


    If the statue, believed to be from the Unified Silla Dynasty (668-918), is returned to the city, the committee will place the 108-centimeter-high statue back in the ruins of Igeo Temple after holding an exhibition about it.

    In 1912, Ryozo Ohira, a director of Gyeongju Financial Cooperative, had it transported to the residence of then-governor-general of Korea, Masatake Terauchi, on Mount Nam in Seoul. Historical records show Ohira presented the statue to Terauchi to curry favor with him. Korea was under Japan's colonial rule from 1910-45.

    In 1939, the statue was moved to what is now the presidential office's premises, as Japan built the office of the governor-general inside Gyeongbok Palace, the main royal residence of Korea's Joseon Dynasty in central Seoul. It is not known how Ryozo Ohira acquired the statue.

    In June last year, President Moon Jae-in instructed officials to re-evaluate the Buddhist statue, and the Cultural Properties Committee designated the statue a national treasure in April this year.

    The civic body said it is the local community's wish that the valuable cultural property looted by Japan be returned to its original place. (Yonhap)