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South Korea: Buddhists' Protest Poised for Long Haul

By Han Sang-hee, The Korea Times, Sept 1, 2008

Protest held by 10,000 temples on Sunday against the government’s alleged favoritism toward Christianity

Seoul, South Korea -- Buddhists repeated their demand Monday for President Lee Myung-bak to apologize for alleged discrimination against their beliefs. They announced that they are preparing for a drawn out protest against the administration.

<< Buddhist monks and followers hold up signboards calling for the resignation of National Police Agency Commissioner General Eo Cheong-soo as part of a protest against the government’s alleged favoritism toward Christianity at Jogye Temple in downtown Seoul, Sunday. - Korea Times Photo by Park Seo-gang

``If the government continues to neglect our demands, it will have to take full responsibility for the terrible situation that may follow,'' Ven. Seungwon, the spokesperson of the Jogye Order said at a press conference held at Jogye Temple Monday.

He also added that the Buddhist community will strengthen its countermeasure commission and make it a permanent organization.

``Buddhist leaders will hold a meeting Wednesday and make specific decisions,'' he said.

The leaders of the Buddhist community held ``protest'' services at temples nationwide Sunday. Ten thousand temples of 27 Buddhist orders simultaneously held a religious service across the nation to protest what they called the government`s religious bias.

Around 9:30 a.m., the temples rang their bells simultaneously to start the service. Buddhist monks said the incumbent administration is biased toward Christianity and urged religious harmony, and followers took turns in criticizing the government.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 followers attended the service at leading temples in Seoul and other areas. Ten monks burned fluffs on their arms in a self-purification ceremony at Hwagye Temple in Seoul. Temples that missed the service will hold a similar one today.

The organizers of the Buddhist service will discuss holding another rally after the Chuseok holidays once their representatives review the government`s response after Wednesday.

President Lee, a Presbyterian, has been criticized for filling his Cabinet with member of his church and for not sending a congratulatory messages on Buddha's birthday, which was later explained as a technical error.

The Buddhist leader mentioned that despite the ongoing efforts demanding an apology and the prevention of similar religious discriminations at a Buddhist rally Thursday, the President invited New Right leaders to Cheong Wa Dae the following day.

Regarding Ven. Sambo's suicide attempt Sunday, Ven. Seungwon advised fellow Buddhists that they should express their demands in a peaceful way.

``Ven. Sambo attempted to disembowel himself based on the `webeopmanggu' (willing to hurt the flesh for justice and law) spirit. Our beliefs of trying to end religious discrimination and realize public harmony must be carried out peacefully and abide by Buddhist teachings, not radical actions,'' he added.

The monk concluded that if the government does not offer a convincing response, Buddhists will continue their protests and rallies starting in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province after Chuseok, or Korean Thanksgiving.

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