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Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Monday told South Korean President Kim Dae Jung that he supports his demand that North Korea apologize for starting the recent maritime shootout near their border in the Yellow Sea.

During a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence in Tokyo, Koizumi and Kim agreed to calmly deal with the North-South skirmish, a Japanese official said.

They also agreed to strengthen bilateral ties following the successful cohosting of the World Cup, the Foreign Ministry official said.

In a 90-minute meeting with Koizumi, Kim explained Saturday’s deadly firefight between South and North Korean boats near their western maritime border and said he is demanding both an apology from North Korea and that it punish those responsible.

While Koizumi supported South Korea’s stance, the two leaders agreed on the importance of reacting calmly and of not escalating tension between the two Koreas, the official said.

Koizumi said he “fully supports” Kim’s policy of seeking dialogue with North Korea, despite growing criticism of the lame-duck leader in South Korea. Kim will be replaced after a presidential election in December.

The prime minister also said that Tokyo will continue to work hard toward normalizing diplomatic relations with Pyongyang through dialogue and by solving the alleged abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents, the official said.

Koizumi and Kim also reaffirmed that Japan, South Korea and the United States should continue coordinating their policies toward North Korea.

They also agreed to continue exchanging views over the increasing number of North Korean people who are seeking asylum by entering diplomatic missions in China, the official said.

In May, Japan and South Korea butted heads with China after Chinese police forcibly removed several North Korean asylum seekers from their diplomatic missions. The North Koreans taken from the Japanese Consulate General were eventually allowed to go to South Korea via the Philippines just before the start of the World Cup.

On boosting bilateral ties, the two leaders adopted what they called a Joint Message Toward the Future, under which they agreed to enhance sports and youth exchanges with government funding, and to launch a study into a bilateral free-trade agreement by government officials, businesses and academics in July in Seoul.

The FTA was recommended by a group of business leaders, and Koizumi and Kim agreed on the framework of an FTA study when Koizumi visited Seoul in March.

The two leaders termed the World Cup a “historic joint works” and said it will “undoubtedly be a valuable asset of the two countries in enhancing Japanese-Korean relations to a higher level.”

Kim, who came to Yokohama to watch the final Sunday between Brazil and Germany, said he was “gravely moved” by the Japanese people who cheered for South Korea, which advanced to the semifinals.

Bilateral ties were strained last year by a row over a controversial history textbook and Koizumi’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine, where Class-A war criminals are honored along with Japan’s war dead.

But the two governments took several steps to improve ties before the World Cup, such as by creating a joint history research committee. Japan also eased its visa requirements for South Korean visitors.

There was no discussion of history during Monday’s talks, the official said.

Kim reiterated Seoul’s request that Japan allow visa-free visits for South Korean tourists, and Koizumi replied that Japan will continue to discuss the conditions to make visa-free visits a reality. South Korea allows Japanese tourists to visit without visas for up to 30 days.

In December, Japan extended the term for tourist visas granted to South Koreans from 15 days to 90 days, and allowed visa-free visits for the duration of the World Cup.

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