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Japan PM Apologizes to South Korea - 2001-10-15

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has apologized to South Korea for the suffering Japan caused during its 35-year occupation. The apology comes during a one-day visit aimed at reassuring Japan's nervous neighbors that its recent plan to join the global war against terrorism will not rekindle Japan's past militarism.

Prime Minister Koizumi offered his regrets during a one-day fence-mending trip to Seoul Monday. He expressed remorse while visiting a site where Japan had detained South Korean independence fighters during its occupation last century.

He says that he sincerely apologizes for the pain and sorrow inflicted on the Korean people under Japanese colonial rule. He adds that he wants to see a good Japan-Korea relationship for the development of Asia and for world stability.

As the Japanese leader spoke, protesters with loudspeakers chanted angry slogans. Many groups disapprove of his visit, including women who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japan's Imperial Army during the Second World War.

Other protesters say they oppose the Japanese leader's plan to enact laws, which will allow Japan's military to give rear-guard support to the U.S. led war on terrorism. They accuse him of trying to make Japan into a military superpower.

Mr. Koizumi also met South Korean President Kim Dae-jung during his one-day trip. A plan to meet with National Assembly Speaker Lee Man-sup was canceled because opposition legislators planned to block the Japanese leader's entry into Parliament.

The prime minister's Seoul trip is aimed at repairing ties which have been badly strained in recent months. South Korea is one of several Asian nations angered by two controversial issues. The first was Japan's decision to approve school textbooks, that critics say distort Japan's past wartime aggression. The second arose in August when Mr. Koizumi visited a controversial Japanese war shrine, which included some men convicted of war crimes.

Mr. Koizumi is eager to improve bilateral relations to pave the way for smoother coordination on North Korea policy and anti-terrorism efforts led by their mutual ally, the United States.