Seoul, Jan 21 (IANS): Thousands of Buddhist monks held a rally in Seoul on Friday, demanding President Moon Jae-in to apologise for what they called the government's "anti-Buddhist bias" after a ruling party lawmaker accused temples of collecting admission fees from visitors to national parks.
The lawmaker, Jung Chung-rai of the ruling Democratic Party, has been under a firestorm of criticism from South Korea's largest Buddhist sect, the Jogye Order, since he compared temples collecting "cultural asset viewing fees" to a legendary swindler known for selling river water for money, reports Yonhap news Agency.
Temples located at national parks have collected 3,000-4,000 won per person in fees from all park visitors regardless of whether they visit the temples or not.
Temples argue they are entitled to such fees because the money is used to take care of temple assets and private areas belonging to temples inside the parks.
Friday's rally, held at the Jogye Order's headquarters in central Seoul, drew attention because it came at a time when the presidential race is heating up amid speculation that anti-government sentiment among Buddhists could affect the chances of ruling party candidate Lee Jae-myung.
It marked the first time in 28 years that the Jogye Order has organised a large-scale rally of monks from across the nation in the name of the National Convention of Monks since a 1994 rally was convened for reform of the sect.
"The government is to preserve cultural heritages, but it now dares to instigate religious conflicts and shift the responsibility," Ven. Wonhaeng, the head of the Jogye Order, said during the rally held at Jogye Temple.
In a statement released before the rally, the Jogye order and the participants called for President Moon's apology, the enactment of laws to prevent further religious bias against Buddhism and measures to preserve national heritages.