S. Korea footballer in island row spared military duty

A South Korean footballer will be excused military service despite controversially displaying a sign on a territorial dispute at the Olympic Games, the head of conscription said on Friday.

Park Jong-Woo, 23, was barred from the Olympic medal ceremony in London after he held up a sign reading "Dokdo is our land" while celebrating his team's 2-0 win over Japan.

The Seoul-controlled islands, known as Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan, are the subject of a decades-old territorial dispute.

The sign, which was handed to Park by a fan in the stands, appeared hours after South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak paid a surprise visit to the islands.

"I don't see any problems with his case," Kim Il-Saeng, head of the Military Manpower Administration, told parliament, adding that the sports ministry was in the process of recommending Park for military exemption.

"I think Park has met all legal requirements for military exemption," he said, describing Park as "a courageous and an admirable player".

The International Olympic Committee, which bans political gestures at the Olympic Games, is investigating Park's case.

South Korean sports officials exempted Olympic medallists as an inducement.

But the controversy has raised questions about whether Park would be exempted from about two years of military service, which is otherwise compulsory for all able-bodied South Korean men.

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