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Japan, China, S. Korea leaders visit nuclear region

by Staff Writers
Fukushima, Japan (AFP) May 21, 2011
The leaders of Japan, China and South Korea travelled to Fukushima on Saturday in a show of solidarity over the ongoing nuclear crisis, visiting evacuees left homeless by the quake and tsunami.

Ahead of a three-way summit, Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak arrived at a shelter 60 kilometres (40 miles) away from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

The power station has leaked radiation into the air, sea and land since it was crippled by a huge earthquake and tsunami on March 11 in the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

Tokyo's neighbours have been concerned by the leak and its impact on food safety across the region, but Saturday's visit focused on paying respects to the lives and homes lost in the disasters.

Wen and Lee, who arrived in northeastern Japan earlier in the day, are the first foreign leaders to visit Fukushima since the monster tsunami hit the plant, which lies around 220 kilometres northeast of Tokyo.

Winding up their whirlwind trip to the region, the three moved to the capital by late Saturday and kicked off their two-day summit at the state guest house, government officials said.

At the Fukushima shelter for some 600 evacuees who have left their homes near the plant, the three leaders tasted local cherries, cucumbers and tomatoes in a gesture to show the safety of Fukushima foods.

"I came to Fukushima on my own decision," Wen told reporters. "I believe Fukushima will be restored with courage and confidence."

Wen also said Beijing was ready to ease restrictions on imports of farm produce from Japan and encourage Chinese people to travel to the country.

Lee visited another evacuation centre in Natori, Miyagi prefecture, northeast of Fukushima, which was among the areas hit hardest by the disasters.

Wearing a navy-blue workman's outfit, he placed a bouquet of flowers and offered a prayer before the sea of debris.

Lee offered Seoul's support to children who have been traumatised by the disaster, and spoke of his hope that Japan will recover as quickly as possible, according to national broadcaster NHK.

Wen separately visited evacuees in Miyagi before moving to Fukushima, and voiced his condolences to the victims.

"I'm filled with sorrow," he told reporters, according to Jiji Press.

"Watching Japanese people's bond of solidarity and determination not to give in to hardships, I believe that (Japan) will achieve reconstruction with the help of the international community," he added.

Wen also thanked a Japanese who died in the tsunami after saving 20 Chinese trainees in Onagawa, Miyagi, saying: "I was able to feel Japanese people's friendship with Chinese."

Around 24,000 people were left dead or missing by the quake and tsunami along the country's northeast coast, according to the latest police count.

At the three-nation summit, first held on a regular basis in 2008, the visiting leaders were expected to reaffirm their support for Japan's efforts to recover from the triple disaster, government sources said.

But according to the conservative daily Sankei Shimbun, China and South Korea rejected opening the meeting in Fukushima after Tokyo allowed the plant to release radioactive water into the sea without consulting them in advance.

"Prime Minister Kan, haunted by sagging approval ratings, may want to emphasise his diplomatic points," the daily said. "But it is highly possible that he will be put on a 'bed of nails'" due to the mistrust, it added.

Kan leads a centre-left government and has been struggling to lift his opinion poll ratings, which hover around 20 percent, throughout the crisis.

For Beijing and Tokyo, the summit was regarded as their latest opportunity to mend ties following a bitter territorial row triggered by Japan's arrest of a Chinese trawler captain near their disputed islands last September.

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Leaders of Japan, China, S. Korea meet in Fukushima
Tokyo (AFP) May 21, 2011
Leaders of Japan, China and South Korea were to gather in Fukushima City Saturday in a gesture of solidarity over the ongoing nuclear crisis - but with Tokyo's neighbours reportedly concerned by its actions. Ahead of a three-way summit, Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak are to visit evacuees who have left their homes near ... read more

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