South Korean sets himself on fire in protest at Japan's trade curbs

SEOUL (Reuters) - A South Korean man set himself ablaze on Thursday to protest against Japan’s recent trade curbs and was taken to hospital with critical injuries, a fire official said.

It was the second such incident since Japan tightened export regulations last month on some high-tech materials bound for South Korea, in an escalating dispute that threatens to disrupt global supplies of semiconductor chips and smartphones.

The man, in his 70s, left a note in a bag pleading for Japan to drop the export curbs, an official of the Jongro Fire Station in Seoul, the capital, told Reuters.

Ties been the neighbors have been thorny for decades because of South Korean resentment over Japan’s occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

The issue of forced wartime labor came to center stage last year when a South Korean court ordered two Japanese firms to pay compensation to Koreans forced to work for them.

Japanese anger over the court ruling was followed by its trade restrictions, which in turn exacerbated South Korea’s anger.

On Thursday, South Korea urged Japan to allow more time for diplomacy as talks on their most serious dispute in years flounder, a day before Japan is expected to decide whether to drop its neighbor from a list of favored trade partners.

South Korea warned its removal from the so-called white list of countries that enjoy minimum trade restrictions could usher in sweeping repercussions, including damage to security cooperation.

Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Clarence Fernandez