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Former 'comfort women' declare recent deal with Japan null

A group of former "comfort women" declared Wednesday the nullification of the recent South Korea-Japan agreement on the wartime sexual slavery victims, urging the Seoul government to make a "proper" resolution.

The agreement, reached on Dec. 28, has sparked a wave of public protests among victims and their supporters, who claim Japan got the better end of the deal by obtaining Seoul's promise to settle the issue once and for all if Tokyo fulfills its commitments.

Under the deal, Japan apologized and acknowledged responsibility for the wartime crime and offered reparations of 1 billion yen (US$8.3 million) to the 46 surviving South Korean victims.

During Wednesday's weekly rally, six former comfort women held a press conference in front of the Japanese Embassy in central Seoul, saying they are strongly opposed to the Seoul-Tokyo deal which was reached without reflecting the opinion of the sexual victims.

One of the victims, 89-year-old Kim Bok-dong said that they will not accept the money from Japan and stressed they will fight the injustice until the matter is fully resolved.

As to the relocation of the comfort women statue erected in front of the Japanese Embassy, she said the statue was a historical relic of the country erected through fund raising by the Korean people, saying neither the Seoul nor Tokyo government should demand the relocation of the statue.

About 800 people gathered at the weekly rally organized by the civic group called the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. The council encompasses a group of civic groups that represent and support victims of the wartime atrocity.

Only 46 former sex slaves, euphemistically called "comfort women," remain as many others have died over time. Historians estimate more than 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were forced into sexual slavery at front-line Japanese brothels during World War II.

Among the participants in the Wednesday rally were some 16 female activists from Asia and Africa who came to Seoul at the invitation of the Ewha Global Empowerment Program, an academic foundation for women at Ewha Womans University.

Civic support groups for comfort women victims have held rallies in front of the Japanese embassy on every Wednesday since Jan. 8, 1992, except twice. The embassy is currently being rebuilt, with its staff temporarily relocated to a nearby building.

The South Korean opposition bloc strongly denounced the deal, saying that it should be nullified since it lacks parliamentary approval.

Meanwhile, a group of student council members from some 16 universities held a press conference in front of the Foreign Ministry in downtown Seoul, urging the government to renegotiate the agreement while claiming that the deal is invalid.

In provincial cities, several non-governmental organizations affiliated with hundreds of demonstrators countrywide rallied and set out to the streets Wednesday denouncing the agreement between South Korea and Japan.

Civic groups in Machangjin and Tongyeong cities in South Gyeongsang Province held a press conference at the provincial government, saying that the "fraudulent" Seoul-Tokyo agreement lost its effectiveness and declared it null and void.

They said they will launch a civic movement to repeal and renegotiate the deal for the restoration of their human rights and honor.

Some 50 members from eight civic groups in Gwangju held a rally before the "comfort woman" statue at Gwangju Metropolitan Government building, calling the agreement a result of humiliating negotiations with the Japanese government. About 20 activists and students began a sit-in protest at the provincial building site.

In Ulsan, a civic group held a protest rally before the comfort women statue at a park in the city center. Some 30 people gathered at the rally opposing the Korea-Japan agreement.

Similar rallies and protest were also held in other cities such as Uijeongbu and Goyang, both in Gyeonggi Province. (Yonhap)

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