August 02, 2011 07:55
Three rightwing Japanese lawmakers returned home nine hours after being denied entry at Gimpo Airport in Seoul on Monday. Yoshitaka Shindo, Tomomi Inada, and Masahisa Sato of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party had planned to visit Ulleung Island on a mission to stress Japan's dubious territorial claim to Korea's Dokdo islets.
The three arrived at 11:03 a.m. and were denied entry into Korea by airport immigration officials. The government tried to put them back on the same plane, which was to leave for Tokyo at 12:40 p.m. according to international practice, but they refused and staged a sit-in.
They argued they were here on legitimate business, and denying them entry was an infringement of their rights. The lawmakers enjoyed a lunch of the Korean signature dish bibimbap offered by the airline at around 3 p.m.
While any government can deny entry to anyone it chooses without explanation, the three warned failure to admit them could lead to "diplomatic consequences."
Nobukatsu Kanehara, a minister at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, called the Foreign Ministry to protest after the three were denied entry.
Around 6:30 p.m., the government told Japanese Ambassador Masatoshi Muto, who had met the Japanese lawmakers earlier, that the day's last flight was leaving at 8:10 p.m. and that the lawmakers would have to share a holding cell with illegal immigrants awaiting deportation overnight if they were not on it.
This apparently changed their mind. They said Muto "agreed to deliver our demands to the Korean government."
Right before boarding the plane, they asked aides to buy dried Korean seaweed for them at the duty-free shop.
But some observers said the government's refusal to admit the Japanese lawmakers backfired by giving them a platform to vent their spleen.
Others complained that the Korean media overplayed the story, pointing out that the lawmakers' stunt attracted little attention in the Japanese press.
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