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Pockets of protest rallies mar Koizumi's Manila visit.

MANILA, Jan. 9 Kyodo

Angry leftist and women's groups staged pockets of protest in Manila on Wednesday to decry Japan's policy towards the Philippines, including its refusal to officially compensate and apologize to aging Filipino women who were raped during World War II.

The rallies somewhat marred Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's arrival in the Philippine capital at the start of a five-country tour aimed at closer economic and security cooperation with Southeast Asian countries.

Around 200 workers, students, indigenous people and former ''sex slaves'' for Japanese soldiers during the last world war converged at the foot of a bridge a few meters from the Malacanang presidential palace where President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo welcomed Koizumi.

Arroyo held talks with Koizumi at the palace and thanked him for visiting the country. She said the overnight sojourn will further cement relations between the two countries, particularly in the fight against terrorism and poverty.

Arroyo cited Japan's role as the country's major trade, investment and development partner, stressing the ongoing economic and structural reforms in Japan will have a direct impact to the Philippines.

A healthy Japanese economy will be beneficial not only for the Philippines but also for other countries, Arroyo said.

But the protesters, bearing red banners and placards, condemned Arroyo for giving Koizumi full military honors at the palace.

''Despite the fact that the Japanese government has not even paid for the war crimes it committed against Filipinos, our government is even honoring its prime minister,'' said Renato Reyes, spokesperson for the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance).

The protesters called for a stop to Japanese official development aid and investments, saying these only help to inflate the country's foreign debt and the projects supported often afflict Filipino communities.

They also said it is Japanese companies that profit from development-sponsored projects because contracts usually go to Japanese firms.

Earlier, around 50 ''comfort women'' who were forced into sexual slavery during World War II converged at Luneta Park, hoping to get Koizumi's attention as he visited the tomb of Jose Rizal, the Philippines' national hero. The police, however, blocked, then and covered up the old women as Koizumi's party passed near them.

''We want the prime minister to see that we are here. We want to tell him to give justice to the comfort women,'' said Anastasia Cortez, 78, from Pampanga Province in the northern Philippines.

Cortez said that during the war, she had just been married when Japanese soldiers killed her new husband before her eyes. She was then taken to a military camp where she was imprisoned and raped for seven months by Japanese soldiers.

She also criticized Arroyo for her failure to make good her promise to take up the issue with Koizumi during her visit to Japan last September.

Instead of pressing their case, the president only asked for financial aid, she said.

Shortly before Koizumi's official delegation arrived, a group of around 30 migrants and workers staged a surprise rally near the arrival area at Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

They carried streamers and banners saying ''Down with Japanese imperialism!'' and ''Condemn and fight the worsening militarism of the Japanese imperialist!''

''The Japanese need not invest in the Philippines. They are the number one violator of worker's rights and the Philippine government keeps on spoiling them,'' said Sammy Malunes, a member of a labor group called the May 1 Movement.

He accused Japanese companies in the Philippines such as Nissan Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Yokohama Rubber Co., among others, of engaging in anti-labor practices such as union-busting, mass layoffs and retrenchments.

Meanwhile, migrant Filipinos accused the Koizumi government of exploiting Filipino workers in Japan.

''It is only fitting that Koizumi is greeted by our fury because of the horrendous conditions thousands of our compatriots are forced to suffer in Japan,'' Migrante International executive committee member Maita Santiago said.

The Philippine ambassador to Japan, Domingo Siazon, said Koizumi will unveil a new framework for regional cooperation in talks with Arroyo later Wednesday.

He said China's ''warming'' ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have put pressure on Tokyo to boost cooperation with its ASEAN neighbors.

Despite its economic woes in much of the past decade, Japan is still the largest aid donor and one of the main investors and export markets of ASEAN. The Philippines, in particular, gets about 70% of its total official development assistance from Japan.

Koizumi will also propose closer cooperation between Japan and the 10-member ASEAN to combat possible terrorist threats, according to Siazon. He will seek cooperation on other regional security concerns such as piracy, drug trafficking, illegal trafficking in women and children and refugees.

Siazon said Koizumi also plans to discuss Asian energy security, and an extensive cultural and educational exchange program between Japan and ASEAN.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Date:Jan 14, 2002
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