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MATSUE, Shimane Pref. (Kyodo) Two Diet members from the Democratic Party of Japan attended a ceremony staged Tuesday by the Shimane Prefectural Government to promote Japan’s claim to a group of South Korean-controlled islets.

It was the first time DPJ lawmakers have shown up for “Takeshima Day” in the six years it has been held.

This year’s ceremony drew 13 Diet members, the most so far.

No official from the central government has ever attended since the prefectural assembly passed an ordinance designating Feb. 22 as the commemoration day in March 2005, drawing the ire of South Korea, which calls the islets Dokdo, not Takeshima.

During Tuesday’s ceremony, which drew an estimated 500 people, Shimane Gov. Zembee Mizoguchi submitted a petition to the Diet members, including the DPJ’s Shu Watanabe and Hisaaki Komuro, calling for creation of a government body to handle the dispute.

Eisuke Mori from the Liberal Democratic Party criticized the DPJ-led administration for “doing nothing” over Takeshima or the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido.

Public interest in Japan’s territorial disputes is on the rise following the incident last September between Chinese and Japanese ships near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit in November to one of the disputed islands off Hokkaido.

No major rally was held by South Korean protesters this year near the ceremony site. In previous years they have staged an event against the Japanese claim and advocated their country’s sovereignty over the islets.

But the South Korean government lodged a protest Tuesday, with the Foreign and Trade Affairs Ministry releasing a statement saying it “sternly urges once again the abolition of the ‘Dokdo Day’ ordinance as well as an immediate halt to unjust sovereignty claims” over the islets.

Seoul also “strongly regrets the participation of Japanese legislators” in the ceremony and reiterated its claim to the islets, saying they are “clearly Korean territory historically, geographically and by international law.”

South Korea will “firmly deal with any attempt to encroach upon Korea’s sovereignty over the island,” the statement said.

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