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Buddhists Urge Korean President to Apologize

By Park Si-soo, The Korea Times, Aug 27, 2008

Seoul, South Korea -- Tens of thousands of Buddhist monks and followers from around the country flocked to central Seoul to protest what they call the administration's discrimination against one of the country's largest religion.

<< Thousands of Buddhist monks and followers hold a rally in central Seoul Wednesday to protest what they call government discrimination against Buddhism. They demanded that President Lee apologize for favoring Christianity. / Korea Times Photo by Park Seo-gang

Considered the largest protest by Buddhists in decades, the rally saw more than 200,000 Buddhists from almost all orders - Jogye, Cheontae, Taego and Gwaneum - take to the streets from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. They marched to Jogye Temple located in Jongno, the de facto headquarters of Korean Buddhism, following the rally.

They demanded an official apology to Buddhist from the President; reprimands for public officials involved in religious discrimination, including National Police Agency Commissioner General Eo Cheong-soo; and legislation to ward off such discrimination. President Lee is a minister at a Seoul church.

They also demanded the removal of members of the People's Association against Mad Cow Disease hiding in a Buddhist temple from a wanted list.

``Unless the government meets our requests in a sincere manner, we will hold additional rallies in other parts of the country in cooperation with civic groups and religious organizations,'' the protesters said in a statement.

None of the protesters wore masks or held candles, and instead sang Buddhist hymns with putting their hands together under numerous flapping banners containing messages condemning the government's alleged bias toward Christianity.

They urged the administration to stop discriminating against their religion.

``Our Buddhists have served as a `buttress' in promoting inter-faith harmony,'' the statement said. ``But several instances of discrimination against Buddhism have occurred since President Lee took office in February. In addition, the President snubbed it. This has apparently violated the Constitution, which bans any form of religious discrimination and impedance to social unity.''

The dispute erupted after police officers searched the car of the Ven. Jigwan, the chief executive of the country's largest Buddhist order, Jogye, in their search for anti-U.S. beef protest organizers taking shelter at a downtown temple.

Following the incident, Buddhists cited dozens of examples of anti-Buddhist discrimination. For instance, a transportation data system provided by the government in June omitted locations of Buddhist temples. Maps of Cheonggye Stream, a body of water reopened while President Lee was mayor of Seoul, also excluded temples.

Meanwhile, Seoul City government decided to impose a fine on rally organizers as they went ahead with the protest without permission. A Jogye Temple worker refuted the allegation, saying ``we sent an official note to the office on Aug. 17 to request approval.'' He added the city government has never restricted the holding of a religious event.

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