By Jack Kim
SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea postponed on Friday the signing with Japan of an agreement to share sensitive military information in the face of anger over a pact with a former colonial ruler that critics say was negotiated behind the scenes.
The agreement would have boosted the sharing and protection of data between the two main Asian allies of the United States, in particular on North Korea which is pursuing weapons of mass destruction as it transitions to a new leadership.
While economic ties and cultural exchanges between Japan and South Korea have flourished in recent years, the two economic powerhouses are tangled in a dispute over remote rocky islands while old animosity in South Korea towards Japan runs deep.
"The government is trying to hand deliver this country's classified military intelligence to the Japanese Self Defense Forces," Lee Hae-chan, leader of the liberal opposition Democratic United Party, told a rally at parliament.
The postponement follows growing political pressure on the government of President Lee Myung-bak, which has acknowledged that it had been less than transparent in negotiating the pact that was always likely to touch a nerve with many Koreans.
Japan ruled Korea as a colony from 1910 until the end of the World War Two.
Among the issues that still anger South Koreans is the question of the proper recognition and compensation for Korean women abducted during the war to be used as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers.
Japan says the issue was closed under a 1965 treaty establishing diplomatic ties.
A South Korean Foreign Ministry official said the pact would be signed after more consultations.
"We have recognized the need to hold discussions with parliament and will be pursuing the signing of the agreement subsequently," the official said.
The pressure on the government to take a step back grew when the conservative, pro-government New Frontier Party called for the pact to be put on hold.
(Editing by Robert Birsel)