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South Korean President Park Geun-Hye Thursday urged Japan to "face history" to mend ties with neighbours, on the same day that top Tokyo officials visited a war shrine seen as a symbol of its imperial past.
Park, in a speech marking the anniversary of Korea's independence from the 1910-45 Japanese occupation, warned that controversies over Japan's colonial rule were "darkening the future of bilateral relations".
Many South Koreans believe Japan has failed to atone for abuses during the colonial period.
"It is hard to build trust without the willingness to face history and consider the wounds inflicted upon others," Park said, urging Tokyo officials to show "courageous leadership".
"I expect responsible and sincere steps to be taken to heal the wounds of those who are still suffering," she said.
Park's comments came on the same day that dozens of Tokyo lawmakers and top cabinet members visited the controversial Yasukuni shrine, a constant source of tension in Northeast Asia.
The shrine in the heart of Tokyo honours people who died during World War II -- including several war criminals.
Visits to the shrine have consistently enraged neighbours, including the South and China, which view them as an insult and a painful reminder of Tokyo's aggression during the war and its brutal occupation of the peninsula.
Dozens of lawmakers and two ministers including Yoshitaka Shindo, the minister of internal affairs and communications, paid the visit Thursday, despite repeated warnings by Seoul that such visits would significantly hurt ties.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a hawkish nationalist, has stayed away from Yasukuni since taking office in December but has defended the right of other officials to visit the site, calling it "natural".
Bilateral relations between Seoul and Tokyo have been regularly strained by diplomatic discord over Japan's wartime aggressions, and a decades-long territorial dispute over a Seoul-controlled chain of islands also claimed by Tokyo.
Earlier this month Tokyo released a public survey that showed six out of 10 its people viewed the islands -- called Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan -- as their own territory, sparking angry protests from Seoul.