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Hundreds of protesters force anti-Korean event to be canceled near Tokyo

KAWASAKI, Japan (Kyodo) -- Hundreds of protesters forced the cancellation of an event apparently targeting ethnic Korean residents of Japan in Kawasaki on Sunday, exactly two years since the enforcement of the country's anti-hate speech law.

The organizer of the event announced its cancellation after lawyer Shinichi Tokunaga and a number of people scheduled to attend were blocked from entering the venue.

The Kawasaki network of citizens against hate speech describes the event's organizer as a man who is known to incite and stoke prejudice and discrimination against Korean residents in Japan.

The event was to be the latest in a string of similar rallies at which speakers expressed anti-Korean positions in what protestors describe as hate speech.

There is a large community of ethnic Koreans living in Kawasaki and they are often the primary target of racist Japanese propaganda.

Protesters began gathering at the venue about one hour before the session's 2 p.m. start time and clashed with would-be event participants as they attempted to enter the Kawasaki city education and culture hall.

Police arrested a 67-year-old Kawasaki resident for destroying property after he allegedly ripped a placard from the hands of a 52-year-old who was attempting to enter the event.

The Kawasaki city government enforced anti-hate speech guidelines in March allowing events deemed to be hosting people engaging in inflammatory addresses at public facilities and parks to be canceled.

The guidelines empower the city government to ban or cancel such events at public venues but it did not apply the measure in this case because it fell short of the required conditions.

Kawasaki Mayor Norihiko Fukuda commented during a press conference in May that, "It is a general rule that the city gives approval to applications to hold meetings at public facilities."

He said at the time the city would continue to gather information on the organizer until the day of the event while determining whether the guidelines should be applied.

Choi Kang I Ja, a 44-year-old third-generation Korean and resident of Kawasaki who was among the protesters, said, "We forced (the meeting's) cancellation. I hope the city will implement its guidelines correctly."

Tokunaga, the lawyer who was to speak at the event, said, "There is an opinion that the restriction of hate (speech) constitutes a serious infringement of freedom of speech. Blocking things like this would not yield anything."

Anti-Korean demonstrations have recently been seen almost every week around Japan, prompting many counter-protesters to gather and raise placards imploring people to be inclusive.

In the period from June 3, 2016, the day the law was enforced, to the end of April this year, police across Japan recorded 82 demonstrations in which speakers were deemed to have engaged in hate speech. The corresponding figure was 65 the year before the law was enforced, according to the National Police Agency.

Japan introduced the law against hate speech after nationalists demonstrated in areas where many Korean residents live, such as in Tokyo and Osaka, shouting insults such as "kill the Koreans."

The law says speaking or acting in ways that encourage discrimination of people from abroad and their descendants or incite their expulsion cannot be tolerated.

It does not, however, stipulate concrete rules or penalties and entrusts local authorities to work out measures to stamp out instances of hate speech.

Thus, the responsibility falls on local authorities to react.

About 500,000 Korean residents live in Japan. Most of them are descendants of Koreans who came or were forced to come to Japan during Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. They are extended permanent residency status.

Repeated bullying and harassment cases against children, notably of pro-Pyongyang Korean residents, have been reported particularly after the North's abductions of Japanese nationals came to light in the early 2000s.

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