08/10/2012, 00.00
SOUTH KOREA - JAPAN

Lee Myung-bak visits islands claimed by Tokyo and Seoul

The waters around the Dokdo (or Takeshima, in Japanese) Islands are rich in fish. Japan recalls its ambassador in Seoul and protests to South Korean ambassador in Tokyo. So far, Lee had always pushed for South Korean-Japanese rapprochement despite Japan's past violent rule in the Korean Peninsula. Tonight, South Korea and Japan meet in Olympic football match.

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) - South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited a group of islands south of the Korean Peninsula, causing tensions with Japan, which claims them.

Known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese, the islands are almost halfway between the two nations, and are claimed by the sides. The waters are rich in fish.

Lee reached the area by plane. South Korea has had a small coastguard detachment on the islands since 1954.

The whole area was on high alert as the president's visit is highly charged given the conflicting claims.

Japan responded to the visit by recalling its ambassador to Seoul and strongly protesting to the South Korean ambassador in Tokyo.

Many in South Korea are wondering why Lee chose to visit the islands at this time, especially since he has always been in favour of friendly relations with Japan, even though many South Koreans are still suffering the effect of Japan's rule in Korea (1910-1945).

The only answer is that Lee, as he nears the end of his mandate, sought to make a "patriotic" gesture to boost his popularity, this despite the fact that he cannot seek re-election.

Japan has always insisted that the dispute over the Dokdo/Takeshima Islands should be settled via diplomacy.

Coincidentally, Lee's action and Japan's response come a few hours before the Olympic bronze medal match between South Korea and Japan in men's football tonight in London.

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