South Korea Lowers Status of Peres Visit in Wake of Gaza Flotilla Raid

Facing international pressure and threat of protests, Seoul downgrades visit from 'state' to 'working'.

South Korea announced on Sunday that it would downgrade the status of President Shimon Peres' planned trip to Seoul, due to international pressure in the wake of Israel's deadly raid on a humanitarian aid convoy bound for the Gaza Strip last week.

Pressure from Arab states and other Muslim allies have led the South Korean government to change the status of Peres' trip from an official "state visit" to a routine "working visit".

Peres' visit is expected to yield a wave of demonstrations across the state; South Korea has even suggested postponing the trip to another date.

The president is meant to take off for Seoul on Monday. The visit was planned months ago, and was to be the first time an Israeli president had visited South Korea and Vietnam in an official capacity. But the trip now faces threat of cancellation due to the events of the flotilla and the harsh criticism of Israel over recent days.

Vietnam three days ago asked Peres to cancel his visit due to the atmosphere of anti-Israel sentiments within its borders, and the South Korean government has begun to send Jerusalem its own hints of crisis.

At this point, however, it seems Peres will make the trip to South Korea and agree to accept its lowered status.

"With the current international situation, it is impossible for us to initiate canceling these trips," Peres said in closed talks on Sunday.

Pro-Palestinian organizations in South Korea have begun to prepare their demonstrations against the visiting Israeli president. One of the groups managed to get its hands on Peres' full itinerary – including the hotel where the president is planning to stay – and published it on its website along with calls to join the protests.

It was these calls to protest that led the South Korea government to consider canceling the visit and to decide on the need for increased security and a revised itinerary for the Israeli president's visit.

For instance, Peres will no longer be granted an honorary doctorate at the University of Seoul during his visit, nor will he meet with students there. The South Korean government is worried that angry students may try to attack Peres or take protest measures that would embarrass the Israeli president.