Former sex slaves and their supporters gave a petition of 550,000 signatures to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi Friday demanding compensation from the Japanese government and a formal apology for the hardships the women suffered from during World War II.

Petition organizers said they hoped this year -- the 60th anniversary of the end of the war -- would be the year to resolve the issues regarding the "comfort women," who have never been given any compensation or apology.

The signatures were collected in support of former sex slaves from Asia, including South Korea, China and Taiwan.

Organizations from around the world, including Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan, Switzerland, Germany, Indonesia, France and the United States, are also supporting the petition demands.

In March, the same petition, with 200,000 signatures, was given to the International Labor Organization; in April, the same number was handed to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights; and in July, 548,724 signatures were given to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

"Why must I stand here, crying and appealing" to the Japanese government over the hardships I endured as a sex slave, asked Lee Yong Soo at a news conference before the petition was delivered.

Lee was taken from her house in what is now South Korea in 1944 and sent to Taiwan at the age of 17. There, she said, she was repeatedly forced to have sex with the Japanese Imperial Army's kamikaze squad.

"Why must I be called a comfort woman -- such a dirty expression?" Lee asked. "Who (does Japan think) created the system of comfort women in the first place?"