Seoul: South Korean women forced into wartime sexual slavery held their 1,000th weekly protest outside Japan's embassy yesterday, demanding compensation and an apology from Tokyo as they have since 1992.
"Apologise!" shouted five women in their 80s or 90s and an estimated 500 supporters, waving banners reading "Compensate" and "Admit the war crime".
Demonstrators campaigning to publicise Second World War crimes braved near-freezing temperatures to unveil a "peace monument" across the street from the mission, despite protests from the Japanese government over the statue.
The five former sex slaves known euphemistically as "comfort women" hugged the replica of a teenage Korean girl in traditional costume.
"Young girls were dragged to other countries as slaves of the Japanese military," said a frail Kim Bok-dong, 85. "I demand that the ambassador of Japan tell the Japanese government to apologise before we all die." The oldest of the Korean former "comfort women" died aged 94 earlier this month and another aged 87 died on Tuesday, leaving just 63 survivors out of 234 who had registered with the Seoul government. In a rare move, a North Korean association for former comfort women sent a letter of support.
"The Wednesday demonstration that has lasted for 20 years is an unbearable blaze of anger against sexual slavery crimes committed by Japan that have trampled on national pride," the group said in a faxed message.
Historians say during Second World War, about 200,000 women from Korea, China, the Philippines and other countries were drafted to work in Japanese military brothels. The issue came to widespread notice in the early 1990s after some victims found the courage to go public.
Japan has apologised for the military's crimes against the women but denies official responsibility for running the brothels. It has rejected South Korea's proposal of bilateral talks about the women's demands. South Korea's foreign ministry said it was inexcusable that the issue was still not settled.