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Tokyo governor again skips tribute to Koreans killed after 1923 quake

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike failed to pay tribute at an annual ceremony commemorating Korean people murdered in the chaos that ensued after the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake for the second straight year on Saturday, despite criticism from civic groups that organize the event.

Instead, the governor sent a message of condolences to a separate ceremony dedicated to the victims of the magnitude 7.9 earthquake that devastated Japan's capital and surrounding areas exactly 95 years ago, which was read aloud by a deputy governor.

The ceremony to mourn an estimated 105,000 people killed in the 1923 quake was held at a Tokyo park, attended by descendants of victims, metropolitan officials and Prince Fumihito, the younger son of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, and his wife Princess Kiko.

Separately from the ceremony, an event commemorating the post-quake Korean massacre has been held every Sept. 1 in front of a cenotaph in Yokoamicho Park, the same venue as the ceremony in Tokyo's Sumida Ward.

Tokyo governors have historically sent tributes to the ceremony for the Korean victims and Koike herself sent one in 2016, shortly after she assumed the post following an election in July that year.

However, she bucked the tradition last year after a Tokyo metropolitan assembly member, arguing there are different views on the number of Korean residents murdered, urged her to think twice about sending a message.

The cenotaph states that the "precious lives of slightly more than 6,000 Koreans were stolen."

Meanwhile, a report compiled by the national government's anti-disaster council in 2008 said those killed in the massacre account for "1 to several percent" of those who died in the quake.

Last month, Koike told a press conference she decided against sending a message of condolences for the Korean victims last year because she meant to express her condolences for "all victims" of the earthquake in the larger ceremony.

The Japan-Korea Society and other groups organizing the event for the Korean victims criticized her stance, saying murder victims and those who lost their lives in a natural disaster should be treated differently.

In the chaotic aftermath of the quake, Koreans and Chinese were killed by military and paramilitary forces apparently acting on a rumor that they would stage an uprising. Many groundless rumors swirled at the time including one alleging Koreans were poisoning wells.

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