An elderly man set himself on fire near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul Wednesday and is in critical condition, a police officer said.
The incident took place around 12:40 p.m. when Choi Heon-yeol suddenly set himself on fire in front of the embassy before being put out by people nearby.
More than 2,500 people were holding a weekly rally there for the elderly Korean women who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japan’s World War II soldiers.
The 81-year-old has since been transported to a hospital specializing in burns in southwestern Seoul, where he lies unconscious.
“More than half of his body is burned, 40 percent of which are third-degree,” doctor Yang Hyeong-tae of Hallym University Hangang Sacred Heart Hospital said.
The doctor said Choi’s survival wasn’t guaranteed because of his old age.
Police, meanwhile, said Choi traveled from Gwangju, some 330 kilometers south of Seoul, to attend the rally.
He has been a long-time supporter of a civic group advocating former sex slaves and has attended court hearings in which the so-called “comfort women” sought damages from a Japanese company, police said.
Yoon Mi-hyang, who leads the Wednesday rallies, said she was shocked by Choi’s actions.
“He’s traveled to Seoul once or twice each month to attend our rallies,” she said. “I was shocked because normally he’s a quiet person.”
South Korea is about to commemorate the 70th anniversary of its independence from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule. Liberation Day, which falls on Aug. 15, is one of the major holidays in South Korea.