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At a solemn ceremony elsewhere in Tokyo, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda apologized to victims of Japanese atrocities, mourned the dead and renewed Japan’s pledge to renounce war.

“We have caused tremendous damage and pain to many countries, particularly the Asian people, during the war. We deeply regret that and sincerely mourn for those who were sacrificed and their relatives,” Mr. Noda said. “We will not repeat the same mistake.”

Emperor Akihito, whose father made the unprecedented 1945 national radio address announcing that the war could not be won, also offered prayers for the dead.

Simmering tensions between Japan and its neighbors have threatened to boil over in recent weeks.

Last week, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak visited contested islands in the East Sea/Sea of Japan called Takeshima in Japanese and Dokdo in Korean. His visit was seen by many as an attempt to play up anti-Japan sentiment ahead of elections later this year.

Japan lodged a protest to South Korea over Mr. Lee’s comment Tuesday that Akihito should apologize to Koreans if he wants to visit the country, saying Tokyo has never discussed or pushed for an imperial visit. Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba also said Japan is considering taking the island dispute to an international court.

A group of South Korean protesters, swimming across the sea in a relay, reached the island on Wednesday.

In a ceremony Wednesday celebrating Japan’s defeat, Mr. Lee condemned Japan for forcing thousands of Korean women into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers during the war.

Historians say up to 200,000 women from Korea, China and the Philippines were forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers at military brothels during the war. Japan has apologized and initiated a private fund as a way to pay the women without providing official compensation, but many of the women rejected the offer, demanding a formal apology and state compensation.

Associated Press writers Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong; Didi Tang in Beijing; Annie Huang in Taipei, Taiwan; and Sam Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.