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Korea's President Lee meets religious leaders after detente with Buddhists

Yonhap News, June 13, 2011

Seoul, South Korea -- President Lee Myung-bak met with religious leaders Monday, a week after South Korea’s largest Buddhist sect announced that it was normalizing relations with the government after half a year of standoff over a budget dispute.

It marked the first time that Lee has met with Ven. Jaseung, head of the Buddhist sect Jogye Order, in more than a year. Jogye’s relations with the government have been tense amid perceptions among Buddhist followers that they are discriminated against by a Protestant president.

The government budget passed last December stroke a blow to their ties as state aid for temple stay tourism programs was slashed. Officials said the cut was a technical mistake made in the chaos of the ruling Grand National Party ramming the budget bill through parliament and assured that the funding would be reinstated to the former level. (Yonhap News)

But the Jogye saw the budget reduction as evidence of the alleged discrimination, and banned government officials and GNP lawmakers from attending any Buddhist events.

It also declared it would reject state funding until Lee’s term ends in February 2013.

After months of efforts by the government to improve relations, Jogye said last week that it decided to normalize relations.

It said it will fully lift the ban on government officials and ruling party lawmakers, and accept government funding.

In Monday’s meeting, which also drew Protestant, Catholic and other religious representatives, Lee asked the participants for cooperation in promoting unity in South Korean society, the presidential office said in a statement.

Lee also stressed the importance of showing respect to other religions, the office said.

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