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Japan's minister in charge of sports expressed his discomfort Tuesday over a politically charged banner displayed by South Korean supporters during an East Asian Cup soccer match in Seoul on Sunday.
"It calls into question the nature of the people in the country," Hakubun Shimomura said of the massive banner at the Japan-South Korea game that read "There is no future for a race oblivious to history" -- a reference to Japan's colonial rule over Korea.
"It's regrettable that a political message was aired at a sporting event," the minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology told a press conference.
Shimomura's remarks brought a sharp retort from the South Korean government.
In a statement released Tuesday night, the South Korean Foreign Ministry expressed regret over the remarks, calling them "an insult to the Korean people."
In the last match of the East Asian Cup, Japan beat South Korea 2-1 to win the tournament.
Japan has lodged a protest with the East Asian Football Federation demanding an investigation over the banner.
FIFA prohibits political statements of any kind during games.
Soccer's world governing body punished South Korea earlier this year on a similar charge during last summer's London Olympics, where one player raised a sign saying "Dokdo is our territory" after the bronze-medal match.
Dokdo refers to South Korean-controlled islets to which Japan also lays claim.
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