The Dong Ward municipality in South Korea's largest port city of Busan on Friday handed over a confiscated statue symbolizing the victims of Japan's wartime sexual slavery to a civic group, paving the way for it to be installed in front of the ward's Japanese Consulate.
Two days before the handover, the civic group attempted to install the statute on the sidewalk in front of the back door of the consulate but was stopped due to opposition from ward officials and police.
Members of the group seek to install the 1-ton statue, similar to another set up in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, as part of their protest against a Seoul-Tokyo deal made in December last year. Under the landmark deal, Tokyo apologized for its colonial-era atrocities and agreed to provide 1 billion yen (US$9.61 million) to a foundation aimed at supporting the victims, euphemistically called comfort women.
Citing that the statue's installation obstructed a road, the ward office prevented the group from erecting it and seized it.
Following the seizure, the ward office was swamped with calls and messages critical of the office which shutdown its website as sentiment against the move ran high. The office then apparently agreed to return the figure to the group as it has no legal grounds for the seizure.
Later in the day, the ward office and the group will hold talks to agree on the location of for the statue, mediated by the Busan city assembly. The civic 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 December 2015 deal hastily without obtaining Japan's acknowledgment of legal responsibility. They also said the agreement was reached without prior consultation with the victims. (Yonhap)