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South Korea angered by Japan war shrine visit

18 october 2012, 17:27
South Korea reacted angrily Thursday to a visit by Japanese opposition leader Shinzo Abe to a Tokyo war shrine, saying Japan should "have the courage" to face up to its brutal wartime aggression, AFP reports.

Abe, who has a good chance of becoming Japan's next prime minister, paid his respects Wednesday evening at the Yasukuni Shrine that honours 2.5 million war dead, including 14 leading war criminals from World War II.

A South Korean foreign ministry spokesman expressed "deep regret and concern" that such a senior political leader and former prime minister saw fit to visit "a symbol of the Japanese war of aggression and militarism."

Visits to Yasukuni by government ministers and high-profile figures always spark outrage in China and on the Korean peninsula, where many feel Japan has failed to atone for its military aggression in the first half of the 20th Century.

Japan's colonial rule over Korea from 1910 to 1945 is still a source of bitter resentment among older generations and Abe, who was elected president of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party last month, is already an unpopular figure here.

As prime minister in 2007, he enraged South Koreans by denying the Japanese military's direct involvement in forcing women, many from the Korean peninsula, into sexual slavery during World War II.

More recently, he pledged to revise an official apology Japan made in 1993 over the so-called "comfort women" issue.

"Japanese leaders should have the courage to face history and humbly accept historical facts ... in order for Japan to become a sincere partner for its neighbors," the foreign ministry spokesman said.

Two Japanese ministers were part of a cross-party group of dozens of lawmakers who made a separate visit to the shrine on Thursday.

The Yasukuni visits are likely to further strain relations at a time when Japan and South Korea are engaged in a propaganda war over a long-standing territorial dispute involving a set of isolated islands.

Japan was infuriated by a visit to the islands in August by South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, who said he had been motivated by a desire to press Tokyo to settle colonial grievances, including the comfort women issue.

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