(ATTN: CLARIFIES Soma's title in 2nd para; CHANGES photo; ADDS more info in paras 4-6)
SEOUL, Feb. 22 (Yonhap) -- The foreign ministry called in a Japanese diplomat in Seoul on Monday to lodge a protest over Japan's renewed claims to South Korea's easternmost islets of Dokdo.
The ministry expressed regrets to Hirohisa Soma, deputy head of mission at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, shortly after the Japanese prefecture of Shimane held an annual event to publicize Japan's claim to the rocky outcroppings in the East Sea.
The latest flare-up of tensions came as Seoul seeks to mend ties with Tokyo, frayed over wartime history and trade, amid Washington's push to bring its allies closer together to address shared challenges, such as lingering North Korean threats.
Choi Young-sam, ministry spokesman, called for Japan to abolish the Takeshima Day event immediately and urged it to "face history with a humble attitude." Dokdo is known as Takeshima in Japan.
"The government strongly protests the futile provocation regarding Dokdo and calls sternly for the immediate abolition of the event," Choi said in a statement.
"As Dokdo is part of our inherent territory historically, geographically and by international law, Japan should immediately stop unjust claims to Dokdo and face history with a humble attitude," he added.
Dokdo has long been a recurring source of tension between the two neighbors, as Tokyo continues to lay claim to the islets in its policy papers, public statements and school textbooks.
South Korea has been in effective control of Dokdo, with a small police detachment, since its liberation from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule.
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