Protesters in Seoul placed a statue of a girl representing victims of Japanese World War II-era sexual slavery in front of the Japanese Embassy on Wednesday as South Korean President Lee Myung-bak prepared to visit Tokyo over the weekend.
Hundreds of South Koreans surrounded the life-size statue of a girl sitting on a chair in traditional Korean clothes as she stares at the embassy. The statue was unveiled to mark the 1,000th weekly rally for women forced to work in brothels for Japanese soldiers. Several of the women joined the rally along with lawmakers.
Japanese officials have apologized in the past to the women. But victims say they also want reparations and prosecution of wrongdoers.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura called the statue "extremely regrettable."
South Korea's Foreign Ministry has said that it relayed a complaint by Japan over the statue to the protesters.
The statute was unveiled before President Lee's weekend visit to Japan for talks with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
Fujimura said the visit is still on despite the statue, but the topic would be unavoidable at the summit talks between the two leaders.
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report from Tokyo.