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May 30, 2017

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Japan stages rally over disputed islands

TOKYO -- Japan held an annual rally on Saturday marking Tokyo's claim to a set of tiny islands controlled by South Korea, further fuelling a long-standing territorial dispute between the two neighbors.

Some 500 people gathered at the event in Shimane prefecture in western Japan, including a high-ranking Japanese government official as well as local and national politicians, organizers said.

Tokyo refers to the islands in the Sea of Japan (known as East Sea in South Korea) as Takeshima, while they are known as Dokdo in South Korea. The Shimane prefectural government claims that the islands are under its jurisdiction.

Yoshitami Kameoka, a parliamentary secretary in Tokyo's Cabinet Office, attended the event representing the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the organizers said.

"Takeshima is an integral part of our country," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in Tokyo on Friday, adding that Kameoka's attendance at the rally was aimed at stressing the Japanese stance on the issue.

The local government designated Feb. 22 as "Takeshima Day" in 2005 to mark the 1905 incorporation of the islands, and has since organized an annual ceremony to commemorate the day.

In Seoul, more than 200 South Koreans from two different groups took turns in staging protests outside the Japanese embassy, shouting slogans and waving banners.

Some 100 South Koreans, who have moved their home addresses to Dokdo, urged Japan to scrap "Takeshima Day" and stop attempts to encroach upon South Korea's territory.

They also demanded Japan apologize for its past wrongs and that its leaders stop visiting a shrine for Japanese war dead, including top war criminals.

Another group of about 120 activists staged a dance and poetry performance, asserting that Dokdo was not the subject of any negotiations.

Relations between the two countries have regularly been strained by the territorial dispute and other issues arising from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.

Tensions were further strained in 2012 following a surprise visit by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to the island chain.

Tokyo is embroiled in separate territorial spats with China and Russia.

Japan's conservative premier has yet to hold a summit with South Korean President Park Geun-hye since taking office in December 2012.

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