South Korean man dies after setting himself on fire outside Japanese embassy

Police say man told acquaintance he would set himself ablaze to show 'antipathy to Japan'

Conrad Duncan
Friday 19 July 2019 08:18 BST
The man ignited a fire inside his car parked in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul on Friday
The man ignited a fire inside his car parked in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul on Friday (AFP/Getty Images)

A 78-year-old South Korean man who set himself ablaze near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul has died, police said, amid rising trade and political disputes between Seoul and Tokyo.

Police said the man, surnamed Kim, died while being treated in hospital on Friday.

According to police, he ignited a fire inside his car parked in front of the building where the Japanese Embassy is located.

Police said Kim had told an acquaintance before the incident that he was trying to set himself ablaze because of his antipathy towards Japan.

The man's family told investigators that his father-in-law had been conscripted as a forced labourer when the Korean Peninsula was under Japan's colonial rule from 1910-45, according to a police statement.

No suicide note was found at the scene and police said they are still trying to determine the exact motive for the incident.

Ties between South Korea and Japan have plunged to their lowest point in decades since Japan recently tightened controls on sensitive high-tech exports, which could affect South Korean manufacturers as well as supplies of smartphones and displays.

South Korean officials have said the trade controls were retaliation for local court rulings that ordered Japanese firms to provide financial compensation to former Korean forced labourers.

However, Japan has denied this, arguing that the controls are necessary for national security.

On Friday, Japan’s foreign minister summoned South Korea’s ambassador and accused Seoul of violating international law by refusing to join a panel to settle the dispute over forced labour during the Second World War.

Japan has requested a three-nation panel to discuss the issue, following the court decision ordering Japanese companies to compensate victims of forced labour.

Taro Kono, the foreign minister, said after summoning ambassador Nam Gwan-pyo that Japan will "take necessary measures" against South Korea if interests of Japanese companies are harmed, without giving details.

Mr Kono urged Seoul to immediately take action to block the court ruling, under which assets of Japanese companies, including Mitsubishi Heavy Industry, could be seized.

Japan has said all compensation issues had been settled under the 1965 bilateral agreement and claimed the South Korean government’s lack of intervention to stop the court ruling is a breach of the international treaty.

Largely peaceful anti-Japan rallies have regularly taken place near the Japanese Embassy for decades, although protests have sometimes turned violent, with demonstrators cutting parts of their own fingers or scuffling with police officers.

In 2017, a South Korean Buddhist monk died after setting himself on fire to protest a 2015 agreement with Tokyo over the coercion of Korean women into sex slavery for Japanese soldiers before and during the Second World War.

Agencies contributed to this report

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