South Korean attempts suicide in anti-Japan spat

A South Korean protester attempted ritual suicide on Wednesday amid rising anger over Japan’s decision to launch an ocean survey in disputed waters between the two countries.

Defying South Korean warnings, Tokyo dispatched two ships to the area claimed by both countries, renewing a feud tied to colonial history that has festered for decades.

The South Korean coast guard said 18 patrol ships were deployed around the islets—called Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan—with a surveillance plane ready to scramble.

“Japan must immediately cancel its plan to survey the area. We will take stern measures if Japan pushes ahead with the survey,” Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon said after a national security meeting chaired by President Roh Moo-Hyun.

“Japan must take full responsibility in case of any physical clash,” added Song Min-Soon, Roh’s foreign policy adviser.

Police said a South Korean protester stabbed himelf in the abdomen in what appeared to be a ritual suicide attempt following an anti-Japanese rally in Seoul.

The man was receiving treatment in hospital where his condition was not critical, police said.

Dressed in traditional Korean robes, the middle-aged man wearing a headband depicting the Korean national flag stripped to his waist, knelt down and then planted the blade in his abdomen in front of a monument erected in honour of a 1919 anti-Japanese uprising.

“He was found groaning alone on the ground when a police officer reached the scene,” a police spokesman told Agence France-Presse. “We heard he was not in critical condition.”

During rallies against Japanese claims to the islands in March last year two South Koreans severed fingers and wrote protest messages in blood.
Japanese flags and effigies of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi were burned during protest rallies across the country.

South Korea says the waters around the islets are part of its exclusive economic zone, but Japan says the two countries’ zones overlap there.

The two Japanese coast guard vessels had already left the port of Sakaiminato in southeastern Japan, but only to escape attention, and were not expected to head to the disputed waters on Wednesday, the Jiji Press and Fuji TV network said.

Tokyo refused to step back despite South Korean anger.

“Surveys like this are also conducted by other countries. We should handle this calmly under international law,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, the spokesman for the Japanese government.

Japanese coast guard spokesperson Yoshiichi Shinde declined to give details of the ships’ itinerary, saying Tokyo was “trying to avoid provoking further South Korean excitement”.

Tokyo’s claim to the islets has infuriated South Korea. Bitter memories remain of Japan’s brutal rule over the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

Relations soured further last year when the western Japanese prefecture of Shimane declared a day to celebrate a 1905 declaration of its control over the islands—a precursor to the invasion of the Korean peninsula.

South Korean anger grew after Japan ordered changes to school textbooks to reflect its territorial claim.

“The relationship between South Korea and Japan was good for some time but it has deteriorated. Now it is stuck in a state of tension,” South Korean ambassador Ra Jong-yil told a news conference in Tokyo.

Japan’s relations with South Korea and China, which were both invaded by Tokyo, have already been badly strained by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s repeated visits to a controversial war shrine.

But while Japan has taken a harder line with China, believing Beijing will not compromise, it had been trying in recent months to repair ties with South Korea.

Japan said the survey was being carried out now because an international oceanographic meeting in June is set to consider a proposal to use Korean names for geographical features on the seabed.

“The aim of this survey is to collect necessary data so that we can submit an alternative proposal,” Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Shotaro Yachi said on Monday.

North Korea has offered moral support to Seoul, saying Japan has become “ever more shameless” in attempts to distort history and expand its territory. - AFP

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