South Korea censured Japan Wednesday for its leader's disparaging remarks about a Korean independence fighter, urging the former colonialist nation to repent for its militaristic past and war aggression.
Seoul's criticism came a day after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe disparaged the late Ahn Jung-geun, a colonial-era national hero who fought for Korea's independence, labeling him as a convicted murderer in a response to a parliamentary query.
Ahn is hailed as a central figure in Korea's independence movement against Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule. Ahn assassinated Hirobumi Ito, the first governor-general dispatched from Japan to govern the colonized Korean Peninsula, in 1909.
"Ahn the martyr is a great, internationally acclaimed figure who punished the leader of imperialist atrocities to protect our country's independence and peace in Asia," a Seoul government official said.
Last month, Japan's chief government spokesman Yoshihide Suga also labeled Ahn as a "terrorist," prompting angry reactions from South Korea.
Recent degrading remarks about Ahn show that Japan's political leaders have failed to repent for its past imperialist wrongdoings, the official said, calling for Japan's introspection.
The latest criticism from Seoul comes amid unusually icy South Korea-Japan relations.
Japan's renewed territorial claims to the easternmost South Korean islets of Dokdo and nationalist remarks by Japanese politicians under the right-wing administration of Abe have severely soured bilateral relations.
Abe's visit to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine in December has further strained the ties, with Seoul issuing near weekly denouncements over Japan's unrepentant attitude toward historical issues. (Yonhap News)