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Japanese prime minister skirts confrontation with Harvard protesters

An estimated 150 students participated in a protest Monday urging Prime Minister Abe to acknowledge Japan's past wrongdoings.

By
Elizabeth Shim
President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan visit the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Monday. Pool Photo by Pete Marovich/UPI
President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan visit the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Monday. Pool Photo by Pete Marovich/UPI | License Photo

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., April 27 (UPI) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's official visit to the United States to bolster ties was overshadowed by a visit to Harvard University, where comfort women activists and student protesters called for Abe to apologize for wartime misconduct.

During a nine-minute speech, Abe said he acknowledged "those people who were victimized by human trafficking and who were subject to immeasurable pain and suffering beyond description," the Harvard Gazette reported. But one student activist said he was less than satisfied with the prime minister's response.

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"A former comfort woman spoke to a group of Harvard students yesterday about how she was literally dragged from her home and forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II," said Joe Lee Choi, a Harvard College sophomore.

Abe has previously stated he did not agree with the 1993 Kono Statement, which acknowledged Japan's coercion of women into military sex camps. His critics have said he has tried to whitewash history to revive nationalism and to maintain power.

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Outside the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, student protesters and comfort women activists had gathered to protest Abe's actions.

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Lee Yong-soo, 86, a South Korean activist and former comfort woman sat in a wheelchair and held a placard that read, "I am a survivor of Japanese military sexual slavery." She also wore a mask marked with a black 'X' that symbolized the shaming and silencing of the survivors of wartime camps.

An estimated 150 students participated in the protest Monday, bearing signs that read, "You can rewrite history, but you cannot rewrite the truth," and "Time is running out," a reference to the aging survivors.

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Yonhap reported Abe arrived earlier than expected to give his speech at the Cambridge, Mass., campus and that he used the back door to enter the building in order to avoid the protesters. Inside, security guards surrounded the podium where Abe stood, and attendees were told to give up their water bottles.

Lee, who was waiting for Abe, said, "If he is confident as the prime minister of a country, then he should boldly go through the front door."

"What is he afraid of?" she said.

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