Reversing an earlier order to remove a statue symbolizing Korean women in Japanese wartime military brothels, authorities in central Berlin said Tuesday they will allow the installation to remain for the time being.
The Mitte district in the German capital said it hopes to explore a plan for Japan and South Korea to reach a compromise on the display. The installation of "comfort women" statues outside of South Korea, in addition to those placed near Japanese diplomatic facilities in Seoul and Busan, has been a source of tension between the two Asian countries.
On Thursday, the Mitte district announced it had rescinded approval for the statue erected last month and called for its removal by Wednesday, amid objections from Tokyo.
Following the decision, a pro-South Korean civic group in Berlin lodged a protest with local authorities and filed a petition with a Berlin court to suspend the district order.
In South Korea, a group of 113 politicians, including lawmakers, submitted a letter to the German Embassy in Seoul on Tuesday, expressing regret and concern over the district's move last week.
A group of about 200 people, including Koreans, also gathered in front of the statue in the Mitte district and voiced opposition to its removal.
In revoking its approval for the display, the district had argued that the statue was related to a conflict between two states, with district head Stephan von Dassel saying that such an installation in Germany was not appropriate.
In Tokyo, the government's top spokesman said Wednesday that Japan will closely watch the situation and seek support for its stance on the comfort women issue.
"We will continue efforts to receive a fair evaluation from the international community," Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said in a press conference.
In South Korea, Lee Yong Soo, a 91-year-old former comfort woman, demanded that the statue be kept in Berlin, calling the city "the capital of the world's conscience."
"Germany is also one of the countries defeated in World War II along with Japan. But it was very different from Japan as it took the lead by apologizing for its past history," she said at a press conference in Seoul.
Issues stemming from Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, including reparations for wartime labor, have hampered the building of friendly ties between the two Asian neighbors.
Japan maintains that the two countries already settled wartime issues when they sealed a bilateral agreement in 1965, while many in South Korea believe that Tokyo has not repented enough for its militarist past, including the comfort women issue.