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President Park Geun Hye urged Japan on Friday to work with South Korea to make next year, which marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties, a "new starting point for a new era" of relations between the two countries.
Meanwhile, South Korea's Foreign Ministry criticized as "deplorable" Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's latest ritual offering to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo and the visits there by two of his Cabinet ministers earlier Friday, the 69th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.
"Based on friendship, I hope both countries make next year as a new starting point for a new era," Park said at a speech marking the anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japan's colonial rule on Aug. 15, 1945.
She urged Japanese politicians "to show wisdom and determination" toward that end.
Park lamented that some Japanese politicians have carried out acts seen as glossing over Japan's wartime wrongdoings, saying they are "dividing the minds of peoples in both countries and hurting their feelings."
Her remarks were made hours before two Japanese Cabinet ministers visited the Yasukuni Shrine and Abe sent his offering to the Shinto shrine that honors convicted Class-A war criminals along with war dead.
The Foreign Ministry, in a statement, said, "Our government finds it deeply deplorable that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has sent again ritual offerings to Yasukuni Shrine, which is a symbol of glorifying Japan's colonial invasion and war of aggression, and some Cabinet ministers and lawmakers visited the shrine."
"Japanese politicians should remember that relations between South Korea and Japan...will make progress in a stable manner only when they discard behaviors of historical revisionism and show through their actions true reflection on past history," it said.
Park also urged Japan to take "proactive measures" to settle the issue of Korean women who were forced into wartime brothels by the Japanese military.
South Korea demands Japan make a full apology and pay compensation to former "comfort women," while Japan maintains that it has repeatedly apologized and that issues of compensation were settled by the 1965 treaty under which diplomatic ties were established with South Korea.
The Japanese government set up a fund in 1995 to pay the women "atonement money" from private contributions, but South Korea says that was not official and thus not acceptable. The fund was dissolved in 2007.
"So far, our government urged Japanese leaders to have a correct recognition of past history and, in particular, demanded for proactive measures that are understandable to former 'comfort women,'" Park said.
"Only when these issues are resolved correctly, relations between South Korea and Japan will make a sound development and peoples in both countries can whole-heartedly celebrate the 50th anniversary of normalization of bilateral diplomatic ties next year," she said.
Relations between South Korea and Japan have nosedived to their lowest point in years over a territorial dispute and different interpretations of history.
Abe and Park have not held a summit due to the strained ties since she took office in February last year.
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