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Monday, 15 October, 2001, 05:27 GMT 06:27 UK
Japan apologises to South Korea
 Junichiro Koizumi
Koizumi laid a wreath to honour Korean independence fighters
Japan's prime minister has apologised to South Korea for the brutality it suffered during the 35-year Japanese occupation of the country.


I sincerely apologise for the pain and sorrow Japan inflicted on the Korean people under Japanese colonial rule

Junichiro Koizumi

Junichiro Koizumi was visiting Seoul in an attempt to mend strained relations damaged by disputes over Japan's wartime past, fishing rights and its backing of the US attacks on Afghanistan.

"I sincerely apologise for the pain and sorrow Japan inflicted on the Korean people under Japanese colonial rule," Mr Koizumi said while visiting a former prison where independence fighters were tortured and executed.

 Junichiro Koizumi
The prime minister bowed his head as he delivered his apology to South Korea
But his visit to the Sodaemun Prison Hall Museum was met by angry anti-Japanese demonstrations which threatened to drown out his landmark speech.

And a planned visit to the National Assembly was cancelled after opposition politicians threatened to block his entry.

After laying a wreath to commemorate Korean fighters, Mr Koizumi said he would be looking frankly at the past in a bid to forge better relations for the future.

Delicate task

The prime minister has already apologised to China for the aggression shown against it by Japan in the 1930s and 1940s.

But in South Korea, he faces an even more delicate task.

The media and politicians are still fuming over Japan's approval of a history textbook which plays down the brutality of its imperial past.

They were also infuriated by the prime minister's visit in August to a shrine that honours Japanese war criminals.

Protestor
South Koreans are concerned about the US attacks on Afghanistan

Relations have been further strained by a damaging dispute over fears that Japan is about to take away fishing rights.

And to cap it all, there is mounting resistance to Japan's promise to support the US-led attacks on Afghanistan, with many fearing it could lead to Japan's re-emergence as a military power.

Goodwill

Relations between the two countries - historical rivals, but important trading partners - have improved in recent years.

They had hoped their co-hosting of the 2002 World Cup football finals would bring them closer together, but the recent controversies are threatening to undermine much of the goodwill.

The visit threatens to backfire on the government, which had initially been reluctant for it to go ahead.

The opposition Grand National party warned that if Mr Koizumi's public comments expressing regret for Japan's wartime past do not go far enough, the government must take full responsibility.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Caroline Gluck
"The controversies are threatening to overshadow the goodwill"
See also:

08 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Koizumi apologises to China
01 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japanese history angers Koreans
19 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Korea furious over Japan WWII remarks
12 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
Hirohito 'guilty' over sex slaves
06 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
No compensation for Japan sex slaves
23 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
PoWs fight Japan firms in US courts
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