» 08/28/2008, 00.00
Seoul, 200,000 Buddhist monks protest Lee administration
Theresa Kim Hwa-young
The monks denounce episodes of discrimination and violation of religious freedom on the part of state officials and leaders. They are calling for an official apology from the Korean president and equal treatment, denouncing "inhospitable" attitudes toward them.
Seoul (AsiaNews) - An official apology for failing to guarantee equal dignity among the religions, harsh measures against those who have practiced religious discrimination, especially toward Buddhist leaders, and immunity for the demonstrators who have organized marches in recent weeks against the resumption of imports of American beef. These are the demands that brought more than 200,000 monks into the streets of Seoul yesterday afternoon, for a massive protest campaign against President Lee Myung-bak and his administration.
The demonstration began at two o'clock yesterday afternoon, Wednesday, August 27, departing from the central square in Seoul. It was attended by some Catholic priests and opposition representatives, who wanted to show their solidarity with the various Buddhist orders present: Jogye, Cheontae, Taego, and Gwaneum. The demonstrators came down Sejong Road to the Jogye temple.
Yu In-chon, minister of culture, sport, and tourism, stressed that rules will be introduced that "ban public officials from practicing discrimination" for reasons of "faith", but the Buddhist monks emphasize that the measures "are not sufficient", and call the treatment they receive from the government "inhospitable".
Last June, an electronic map of the capital drawn up by the government did not include the Buddhist temples: a sharp controversy followed, leading the government to apologize for the "error" and update the maps. Adding fuel to the fire was the publication of a photo that showed the head of the security forces attending a benefit event organized by a Christian association.
The Buddhist monks have already received the "apologies" of various members of the government, including Prime Minister Ha Seung-soo, but they are demanding an apology from President Lee as well, the country's most powerful politician and a Protestant Christian. South Korea is one of the most tolerant and protective countries in Asia in the matter of religious freedom: Catholics, Protestants, and Buddhists have always taken turns in the government and the presidency. According to official sources going back to 2005, Buddhists are 22.8% of the population, Protestants 18.3%, and Catholics 11%.
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More than 10,000 demonstrate against the importing of meat from the United States
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President Lee's apologies don't satisfy Korean Buddhists
The monks' leaders insist on the dismissal of the chief of police, and on a law against religious discrimination. But now conservative Protestant groups are also joining in the controversy. The risk is that a real interconfessional clash could erupt.
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Seoul, president Lee's popularity tumbles
Protests over American meat, the project for the "great canal", and the lack of dialogue with the opposition are losing points for the new Korean leader, who gets only 17 favourable votes out of 100.
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