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[Newsmaker] Priests stir row over Yeonpyeongdo, election

Members of the Catholic Priests’ Association of Justice march in Gunsan, North Jeolla Province, on Friday.(Yonhap News)
Members of the Catholic Priests’ Association of Justice march in Gunsan, North Jeolla Province, on Friday.(Yonhap News)
A left-wing Catholic priest sparked controversy with remarks that apparently sympathized with North Korea’s shelling of a South Korean border island three years ago.

During a mass on Friday, the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice also demanded the resignation of President Park Geun-hye and called her election last year illegal.

The priests club, based on voluntary membership, has been at the center of Korea’s pro-democracy movement since the 1970s.

“We can only conclude that a president who ignores people’s demands for the truth and displays characteristics of a stubborn dictator is acknowledging that she is no longer the president chosen by the people of Korea,” its 30 members said in a statement issued during the Mass in Gunsan, North Jeolla Province.

They said Park should take responsibility for the state agencies’ alleged intervention in last year’s presidential race.

In a more controversial remark, priest Park Chang-shin from the Jeonju Diocese compared the North’s attack of the Yeonpyeongdo Island in 2010 to Seoul’s moves to protect the easternmost islets of Dokdo against Japan.

Just as South Korea would react to Japan carrying out a military exercise near Dokdo in the East Sea, Pyongyang had only taken countermeasures to the South Korea-U.S. military drill along the Northern Limit Line, a de facto sea border between the two Koreas, he argued.

The comments came one day before the third anniversary of the North’s shelling that killed four South Koreans.

The progressive priests’ group was launched in September 1974 to fight the draconian rule of former President Park Chung-hee, father of the incumbent president.

It was one of the most vocal critics of general-turned-president’s Yushin Constitution which aimed to oppress his opponents and lengthen his presidency.

In 1987, they disclosed the truth behind the torture and killing by police of a student activist, which sparked the June Uprising which forced then military-backed President Chung Doo-hwan to accept the people’s demands for a direct presidential election.

Since the 1987 democratization, the CPAJ has largely focused on promoting social justice and reconciling with North Korea. In October 2007, the group revealed a major corruption scandal involving Samsung Group executives.

Since conservatives took power in 2008, the group has been at the vanguard of various anti-government activities including a wave of anti-U.S. beef demonstrations in 2008 and the current protests against the National Intelligence Service’s alleged interference in last year’s presidential election.

(From news reports)