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Flags burned in South Korea’s anti-Japan protests

Protesters burned Japanese flags in Seoul on Wednesday as South Korea’s foreign affairs minister denounced Japan for stepping up its claim to disputed islets under Seoul’s control.

Inflaming South Korean protesters, Japan’s Shimane prefecture earlier on Wednesday enacted an ordinance designating February 22 ”Takeshima Day” in honour of the tiny rock islets known as Takeshima in Japanese and Dokdo in Korean.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ban Ki-Moon condemned the move as ”deplorable”, while his ministry said the Tokyo government must take full blame for all consequences.

”It is needless to say that Shimane prefecture’s deplorable act has no impact on the status of Dokdo belonging to our territory,” Ban told a press briefing.

Ban said Seoul will take countermeasures ”to further cement our effective control” of the rocky islets, where a South Korean police contingent has been stationed for years.

”The government responses focus on defending our territorial right to Dokdo,” he said, adding that step-by-step countermeasures have been prepared at government level.

The foreign ministry issued a statement calling on Shimane prefecture to repeal the ordinance, and summoned a senior Japanese diplomat to deliver a protest to Tokyo.

”The government will take all necessary actions to make the Shimane prefecture withdraw its ‘Dokdo [Takeshima] Day’ ordinance, and it makes clear that Japan is solely responsible for all consequences that may follow,” the statement read.

As part of the countersteps, the Seoul government said on Wednesday that it has lifted restrictions on civilian access to the disputed islets to underscore its control of the territory.

”We have decided to allow South Koreans full public access to Dokdo,” said Yoo Hong-Joon, head of the Cultural Heritage Administration.

Previously, public access to the sensitive islets has been restricted in the name of protecting natural resources, he said.

In a further setback to relations, the provincial government of South Korea’s south-eastern North Kyongsang province on Wednesday issued a declaration cutting off ties with Japan’s Shimane prefecture.

South Koreans torched Japanese flags and effigies of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi during rallies across the country.

”Stop robbing us of Dokdo!” one activist chanted as hundreds protested in one of the biggest rallies at the Japanese embassy in Seoul, which was surrounded by riot police.

Protests have intensified throughout the week, with activists criticising Tokyo and burning the Japanese flag. Two activists cut off their little fingers on Monday to dramatise their opposition.

Relations had been improving recently between Seoul and Tokyo, which designated 2005 as ”friendship year” to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1965 normalisation treaty between them.

However, the territorial dispute and other strains have stoked rising nationalism in South Korea and revived lingering bitterness about Japan’s brutal colonial rule of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

South Korea’s National Security Council is to meet on Thursday to discuss latest developments in relations with Japan. — Sapa-AFP

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Jun Kwanwoo
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