A senior Protestant pastor, an active supporter of South Korean president Lee Myung-bak, has warned he will campaign to oust him if sukuks (Islam financial bonds) tax exemptions are approved by the national assembly. Protestants in South Korea are fiercely opposed to a government move to attract investment from the Middle East by offering tax exemptions on the bonds. A bill to grant the exemptions was introduced during the provisional session of the national assembly which began on February 18. Reverend Cho Yong-gi, who contributed to President Lee’s election campaign, issued his warning during a church service on February 24. Protestants, including the conservative Christian Council of Korea, say the bill favors Muslims too much and will even encourage Islamic extremists to invest in the country. The Protestant stance, however, has drawn widespread criticism. In a statement also on February 24, the Korea Institute for Religious Freedom, an NGO which promotes the separation of religion and state, said Protestants have exceeded their authority. Newspapers have also spoken out against Protestant arguments. In an editorial on February 25, the Seoul Sinmun daily, called Reverend Cho’s position “radical and very critical," also urging Protestants to keep church and state separate. Meanwhile, Father John Song Yong-min, secretary of the Korean bishops’ committee for promoting Christian unity and inter-religious dialogue, has warned the government that Protestants’ “intolerant attitudes” could lead to conflict with Muslims if the bill is passed. The Protestant Church in Korea has been greatly influenced by the American Evangelical Church, which does not allow compromise in faith and salvation, and which also has an “inherent fear” of Islam, Father Song said today. The government, so far has dismissed criticism of the bill, saying tax exemption on sukuks is in line with legislation covering other foreign currency bonds. KO13446.1643
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