An elderly South Korean man set himself on fire on 12 August at a protest in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, days before the 70th anniversary since the end of Japan's colonial occupation of the Korean peninsula on 15 August.

The self-immolation came during a regular weekly demonstration outside the Japanese embassy in downtown Seoul calling for Japan to apologise for forcing Korean women to work in military brothels during World War Two.

With the anniversary looming, the protest was larger than usual, with about 2,000 demonstrators, including 3 of the 47 known surviving Korean "comfort women," as they were euphemistically called by Japan, according to organisers. As flames enveloped the man, bystanders ran to cover him with protest banners and water. Paramedics then took him to hospital.

A firefighter said the man was still alive and it appeared that he had tried to kill himself by setting himself on fire. He had with him a soft-drink bottle that he smelt of gasoline, according to a witness at the scene. Yonhap News Agency reported that the man in his 80s had travelled from the southern city of Gwangju.

In South Korea, Japan's 1910-1945 colonisation of the Korean peninsula and the legacy World War Two remains a sensitive subject. South Korea's ties with Japan have long been strained by what Seoul sees as Japanese leaders' reluctance to adequately atone for the country's wartime past, including a full recognition of its role in forcing Korean women to work in military brothels.