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Monday, June 20, 2005

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Japan PM at tense Seoul summit

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Japan PM at tense Seoul summit Japan PM at tense Seoul summit
Japan's Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, has arrived in South Korea for key talks aimed at mending damaged ties between the two neighbours.

Protestors burned the Japanese flag and called for Mr Koizumi to resign.

Relations have been hurt by a row over history textbooks, disputed islands and Mr Koizumi's visits to Japan's Yasukuni Shrine, which honours its war dead.

The neighbours, both US allies, are also expected to discuss the deadlock over North Korea's nuclear weapons.

The communist state indicated last week that it may return to six-nation negotiations over its weapons programme if the US showed it more respect.

The Japan-South Korea summit is scheduled to begin at about 1500 local time (0600 GMT).

About 20 protesters rallied in front of the Japanese embassy, and another 50 or so demonstrated outside the presidential office where the summit is expected to take place.

"We denounce Prime Minister Koizumi for spearheading Japan's revival of militarism that is driving Asia again into a conflict," the protesters said in a statement.

Mr Koizumi said before he left Tokyo that he wanted "frank" discussions with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.

"It would be a pity to end friendly relations only because we have differences of opinion over a limited number of issues," he said.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon told Reuters news agency that solving the dispute over Japan's wartime past was essential for restoring accord.

"Without a resolution of the history issue, reconciliation and co-operation between neighbours will be impossible," he said.

Yasukuni row

South Korea and China - both invaded by Japan during World War II - have attacked Mr Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni shrine and new school history books as a glorification of Japanese militarism.

Mr Koizumi maintains he prays for peace at the shrine, and has dismissed calls for a secular national war memorial.

"I don't want there to be misunderstanding that Yasukuni shrine would be abolished or that (a new memorial) would replace Yasukuni," AFP news agency quoted him as saying before leaving for Seoul.

Relations between the two countries plummeted in April after the publication of a Japanese history textbook that, according to South Korea, glossed over atrocities committed by Tokyo's imperial army in World War II.

South Koreans protested in the streets, their anger fuelled by Mr Koizumi's earlier claim that a small group of islands in the sea between the two countries belonged to Japan.

Seoul and Tokyo had named 2005 as a year of celebration to mark 40 years of diplomatic ties between the neighbours.

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