Pro-Pyongyang high schools were officially banned Wednesday from the government's tuition-waiver program, almost three years after every student in Japan, including those at foreign schools, was declared eligible to receive the financial aid.

The decision reflects hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's get-tough stance toward North Korea over various provocative actions, including repeated nuclear tests, missile launches and the abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.

But critics have slammed the punishment, calling it "blatant racism" against ethnic minorities and are turning to international organizations, including the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee, to force a reversal.