South Korea marks 'comfort women' memorial day

South Korea on Wednesday observed its official "comfort women" memorial day for a second year, with a ceremony commemorating Korean women who were forced to work in the Japanese military's wartime brothels.
The memorial day was marked as relations with Japan have fallen to their lowest point in years due to a number of disputes, including South Korean Supreme Court rulings ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation over wartime labor.
"Since last year's memorial day, eight of the victims have passed away and now only 20 of them survive," Gender Equality and Family Minister Jin Sun Mee said in her remarks at the ceremony, vowing efforts to restore the women's dignity and honor.
"We will establish the comfort women issue as one of women's human rights and educate a new generation so that it will be remembered as a historical lesson," Jin added.
President Moon Jae In, who attended the first official memorial day ceremony but did not do so this year, made a similar pledge to the victims in a message posted on Facebook.
Moon said Wednesday's ceremony was made possible because former comfort women were not afraid to speak publicly about the hardships they faced.
The president did not criticize Japan in his message.
The South Korean government in 2017 designated Aug 14 as the Japanese Military Comfort Women Victims Memorial Day, as on that day in 1991 Kim Hak Soon, a former comfort woman, became the first to testify about the hardships the women faced.
The government has used the day to communicate to the international community that the issue of comfort women is a matter of sexual violence against women during wartime and of women's universal human rights.
The Seoul municipal government is set to unveil a statue symbolizing the women at a park in Namsan later in the day.
A weekly rally to demand a sincere apology from Japan to former comfort women was also held near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. The rally was the 1,400th such protest, according to South Korean media.
The comfort women issue has for years been a source of tension between South Korea and Japan, which ruled the Korean Peninsula from 1910 until it was defeated in World War II in 1945.
The two countries in 2015 agreed to "finally and irreversibly" settle the protracted bilateral row, with Japan issuing an apology to former comfort women for their suffering and providing 1 billion yen ($9.5 million) to a foundation meant to help the victims financially.
But the Moon administration, which came to power after the agreement, said the deal could not settle the issue as it did not reflect the opinions of the surviving victims.
It took procedural steps last month to formally dissolve the foundation, drawing harsh criticism from Tokyo as it was done without Japan's consent.
South Korea will be celebrating Liberation Day on Thursday, commemorating the end of Japanese colonial rule that came with Japan's surrender to Allied forces on Aug. 15, 1945.

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