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Civic group's attempt to erect statue symbolizing sexual slavery victims foiled in Busan

Dozens of members from a civic group without authorization attempted to install a statue of a girl symbolizing the victims of Japan's wartime sexual slavery in South Korea's largest port city of Busan, but the attempt was foiled due to opposition from officials and police.

The group tried to set up the statue on the sidewalk in front of the back door of the Japanese Consulate shortly after a weekly rally around 12:30 p.m. calling for the Japanese government to offer an apology and compensation for its wartime sexual enslavement of Asian women, many of whom were Korean.

As many as 150 activists from the group staged the rally to protest a Seoul-Tokyo landmark deal in December last year in which Tokyo apologized for its colonial-era atrocities and agreed to provide 1 billion yen (US$9.4 million) for the creation of a foundation aimed at supporting the victims, euphemistically called comfort women.

The statue, similar to another statue set up in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul and weighing 1 ton, was moved by forklift.

Police and officials from the city's Dong Ward office, however, prevented them from erecting the statue. About 30 members began a sit-in protest to demand the statue's installation. During the face-off, a college student was detained on charges of obstructing official duties, police said.

The ward office opposed the installation, citing that the statue's installation obstructed a road, decided to move it to another place with a forklift and tried to disperse the protesters.

On Dec. 20, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed opposition to the installation, saying it is "very regrettable, and the Japanese Consulate has sent the ward office an official document against it."

An official at the civic group said, "We tried to erect the statue today, the first anniversary of the deal, after judging that it is difficult for the statue to be set up by having prior consultations with the ward office," vowing to continue the sit-in until it is erected.

The group earlier planned to hold a ceremony at 9:00 p.m. Saturday in front of the consulate to unveil the statue.

South Korean victims, liberal civic groups and opposition parties have accused the South Korean government of striking the deal hastily without obtaining Japan's acknowledgment of legal responsibility. They also said the agreement was reached without prior consultation with the victims. (Yonhap)