SEOUL, South Korea — Bowing to public pressure, an official in South Korea’s second-largest city said on Friday that activists could put up a statue representing Korean women forced into sexual slavery by Japan during World War II, a year after the two countries said they had put that emotional issue behind them.
The bronze, life-size statue, of a girl in traditional Korean dress sitting in a chair, had been raised without permission on Wednesday on a sidewalk near the Japanese Consulate in Busan. The police removed the statue, dispersing activists who tried to stop them, but on Friday an official said it could be reinstated.
“I apologize to many citizens,” Park Sam-seok, mayor of the ward in Busan where the consulate sits, said at a news conference as he announced the statue’s return. “This is an issue between the two nations, and I realize it’s too much for a local office like mine to handle.” Activists quickly put the statue back in place.
Since the statue’s removal on Wednesday, the ward’s office had been overwhelmed with angry phone calls, and its website temporarily froze because so many people were visiting to leave hostile comments. Some called Mr. Park a “pro-Japanese collaborator,” a grave insult in South Korea, where bitter memories of Japan’s colonial rule in the first half of the 20th century still run deep.
The consulate had strongly objected to the presence of the statue, which the activists installed near one of its gates, where diplomats would see it as they left their offices. On Friday, the consulate lodged a protest and request to Busan city to remove the statue..
Japan registered complaints with the governments of South Korea and Busan. Shinsuke Sugiyama, Japan’s vice minister for foreign affairs, told the South Korean ambassador in Japan that the statue “went against the spirit of the Japan-South Korea agreement concluded at the end of last year and is extremely regrettable,” adding that it would have an “unfavorable impact on the relationship between Japan and South Korea, as well as disturb the security of the consulate.”
Mr. Sugiyama said the Japanese government would continue to strongly request that South Korea remove the statue.
Dozens of identical statues have been put up in South Korea since 2011, when the first one, placed near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, caused a diplomatic uproar. But the statue in Busan was only the second to be installed near a Japanese diplomatic mission.
Wednesday was the first anniversary of a landmark agreement between South Korea and Japan to resolve their dispute over the extent of Tokyo’s responsibility for what happened to the wartime sex slaves, or “comfort women,” as they were euphemistically known.
Both sides called that deal — in which Japan apologized and promised $8.3 million to care for the surviving women, in return for South Korea’s promise not to press any future claims — a “final and irreversible resolution” to the dispute, which had become a serious obstacle in their relations.
But the deal fell short of the survivors’ demand that Japan pay formal reparations and accept legal responsibility for what they endured. And it proved to be one of the most unpopular decisions made by President Park Geun-hye, whose powers have been suspended since the National Assembly voted for her impeachment this month over a corruption scandal.
In the year since the agreement was reached, students have been camping out by the statue near the Japanese Embassy to ensure it is not removed, and five more statues have been installed around the country, with money raised through donations.
Opposition parties have long denounced the deal, and since Ms. Park’s powers were suspended, they have increased pressure on the government to reconsider it, along with some of her other key policy decisions.
If the Constitutional Court ratifies Ms. Park’s impeachment in the coming months, formally removing her from office, a presidential election will be held. Two leading contenders to succeed her have said that they will seek changes to the deal with Japan if elected.
Japan’s defense minister, Tomomi Inada, stirred bitter wartime memories in South Korea on Thursday by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which commemorates Japan’s war dead, including a number of officers convicted of war crimes during World War II.
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