(LEAD) Leading presidential candidates zero in on national security on independence movement anniv.
(ATTN: RECASTS headline: UPDATES throughout with latest campaign remarks)
By Park Boram
SEOUL, March 1 (Yonhap) -- The two leading presidential candidates zeroed in on national security issues Tuesday as South Korea marks the anniversary of a 1919 uprising against Japan's colonial rule.
Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) locked horns over key securities issues at home and abroad during their campaign rallies, eight days before Election Day.
"I, Lee Jae-myung, will never tolerate Japan's Self-Defense Forces setting foot on the Korean Peninsula again," the DP candidate said during his TV speech broadcast on KBS, accusing Tokyo of failing to repent for its past invasion of Korea.
"I will take a path that is not shameful to the eyes of our people and patriotic martyrs who longed for complete national independence," Lee said, marking the nationwide 1919 uprising against Japan's colonialism.
Lee's remarks are an apparent swipe at Yoon after the PPP candidate made remarks during a TV debate last week that suggested he could be open to the possibility of Japanese troops entering the Korean Peninsula in the event of a contingency.
"I got the impression that Yoon has a substantial problem in his understanding of diplomacy and national security," Lee said.
Touching on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Lee called for a stern response against Moscow, saying war should be avoided at any circumstance, and the territory and the sovereignty of a nation should be respected.
On the Seoul-Tokyo relationship, he said a two-track approach, separating social and economic issues from those concerning history and territory, should be taken to find a common ground between the neighbors.
Yoon, meanwhile, seized on the controversy over Lee's recent remarks on Ukraine.
During a TV debate last week, Lee said, "In Ukraine, a novice politician of six months became president and declared (Ukraine's) accession to NATO, which provoked Russia and eventually led to a clash," triggering criticism he was shifting the blame for the war to the Ukrainian president.
"If he defends Russia that invaded a peace-loving country, I cannot help but ask if he would say North Korea's invasion of the South was caused by us," Yoon said in a Facebook post, accusing Lee of ridiculing the Ukrainian people and raising the ire of the international community.
Yoon said South Koreans are taking the importance of national security more seriously than ever in the wake of the war on Ukraine, and Seoul needs "strong defense power" and a "firm alliance with the U.S." to protect the nation from North Korea's nuclear and missile threats.
Later in the day, Lee held a meeting with foreign businessmen. He will then move to Myeongdong, central Seoul, for a rally with other DP members, where he is expected to talk about Japan.
In a recent article he contributed to Foreign Affairs magazine, Lee expressed regret over "Tokyo's unwillingness to let go of its imperial past," saying it continues to hamper trilateral cooperation among Japan, South Korea and the United States."
Yoon's campaign on Tuesday included a visit to Seoul National Cemetery, where he paid his respects to fallen heroes in the independence movement. He was also scheduled to rally near Chung-Ang University, the alma mater of Lee, and move to Sinchon, a favorite haunt of college crowds, to target young voters
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