A South Korean Buddhist monk sustained third-degree burns after he set himself ablaze in Seoul on Saturday as part of protests against the nation’s 2015 agreement with Japan over compensation for “comfort women”, who were forced to work in Japanese brothels during World War II. An official from the Seoul National University Hospital, where the monk is undergoing treatment, said there was serious damage to his vital organs, AP reported.

The monk took the step after a statue representing the “comfort women” was placed in front of the Japanese consulate in Busan, prompting Tokyo to recall its ambassador to the country and halting economic dialogue. Japan said the move was a violation of the deal the countries reached in December 2015, which includes a payment of 1 billion yen (around Rs 54.5 crore) to the victims forced into sex slavery in a fund administered by South Korea.

Police said the monk referred to South Korean President Park Geun-hye as a traitor, while condemning the bilateral agreement, and called for her removal. The subject is a sensitive one as protestors claim they had reached the deal without the approval or participation of the 46 surviving victims. Japan had offered an apology as the countries had signed the agreement, but it had said the payment was aimed at “restoring the women’s dignity” and was not an official compensation.

A similar statue in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul sparked controversy after Japan vowed to fund a Seoul-based organisation, which was set up to help support the victims. As part of the agreement, South Korea had agreed to avoid criticising Tokyo over the matter. Japan has called for the statues to be removed.

Deeming the deal humiliating, victims and activists are unhappy with Japan’s refusal to accept formal, legal responsibility for the subject, which has strained ties between the two countries for decades. Many of the 200,000 “comfort women” forced into prostitution and sexual slavery during WWII were Korean.