By Yoo Seungki
SEOUL, Dec. 28 (Xinhua) -- Students and civic group activists advocating South Korean "comfort women" victims gathered once again in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul at 11 a.m. on Wednesday for their weekly rally.
This time around, the regular gathering was moved up one hour to hold a memorial ceremony for seven women who passed away earlier this year.
They are the victims called "comfort women," a euphemism for women who were lured or forced into sex enslavement for Japanese military brothels during World War Two.
Among 238 South Korean women, who identified themselves as former sex slaves, only 39 are alive. Historians say as many as 200,000 women, mostly from the Korean Peninsula as well as from China and Southeast Asian nations, were coerced into sexual slavery during the devastating war.
An advocate for the victims explained the deceitful and forcible recruitment of teenage girls, who died of old age over seven decades later with their lifelong physical and emotional scars unhealed.
Japan's cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has refused to sincerely apologize for past brutalities and acknowledge its legal responsibility for the wartime crime against humanity.
"It is heart-breaking for me to be reminded of the grandmothers who passed away without receiving any public apology (from the Japanese government) for the wartime crime and atrocious state violence," said Oh Kyung-hee who laid flowers to the deceased during the memorial service.
The 40-year-old woman, who often participates in the so-called "Wednesday rally" together with her two primary school daughters, said the starting point for normal relations between South Korea and Japan should be Japan's heartfelt apology and repentance over what it did during the 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.
The Wednesday rally, the world's single longest-held demonstration, has been opened at noon every Wednesday since Jan. 8, 1992. What people have demanded is simple: sincere apology and repentance.
This Wednesday's event drew more protesters than usual as it marks the first anniversary of what both politicians and ordinary people branded as the "humiliating" and "disgraceful" agreement.
On Dec. 28, 2015, the Park Geun-hye administration announced the "final and irreversible" agreement with Japan on the comfort women issue, in exchange for receiving 1 billion yen (about 8.3 million U.S. dollars) to build a new foundation here for the victims.
After the end of the official function, protesters marched to the foreign ministry building, about a kilometer away from the Japanese embassy, shouting for an immediate annulment of the agreement.
"(South Korean) people also want normalized ties with Japan. But, the development in Korea-Japan relations was hampered by the agreement as it creates a negative public awareness toward Japan," said Rep. Lee Jae Jung of the biggest opposition Minjoo Party who joined the march and the rally.
Lee, who had worked as a human rights lawyer before becoming the first-term lawmaker, noted that the unilateral agreement only added pain to the already scarred victims.
The agreement further enraged the surviving victims, who had decried the unrepentant Abe cabinet. Suspicions were raised that the Park government might have clandestinely agreed to remove a "girl statue" in return for the money offered by Japan.
The statue, which symbolizes teenage girls forcibly conscripted and raped by Japanese soldiers during the Pacific War, was erected in December 2011 with funds donated by ordinary people. Since then, it has stood in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul.
For fear of possible attempts by either of the South Korean or Japanese sides to tear down the symbolic statue, college students have voluntarily taken turns in standing watch around the statue for almost a year, rain or shine.
"The government has promised or guaranteed nothing about the girl statue, so young students have been on their guard for a year with fears that it can be dismantled secretly," said Rep. Pyo Chang-won of the Minjoo Party who also participated in the Wednesday demonstration.
The Minjoo Party has adopted the annulment of the agreement as its party line. The party's floor leader said that if the presidential power is transferred to the opposition bloc, his party will nullify it.