Japanese Government Urges Calm Amongst Fans For Potentially Volatile Match vs. North Korea

TOKYO (AP) - Japan's chief government spokesman urged his countrymen Wednesday to keep politics and sports separate when Japan plays nemesis North Korea in a soccer match next week. He added that the necessary measures were being taken to assure a safe game.

North Korea and Japan both in the final qualifying round for Asia's slots in next year's World Cup square off in Saitama just outside Tokyo on Feb. 9.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda urged Japanese soccer fans to stay calm and simply enjoy the sport.

"We will have the police coordinate with soccer officials and provide the necessary security Hosoda said. "We should separate sports from politics."

North Korea's national team is playing for the first time on the international stage since 1994. It is in Group B with Iran Bahrain and Japan. The top two from Asia will travel to the finals in Germany.

Relations between North Korea and its former colonial ruler have been especially chilly in recent months over allegations that the communist state has yet to come clean over its abductions of at least a dozen Japanese in the 1970s and 80s. North Korean agents allegedly kidnapped the Japanese to be used as language teachers.

Japan which has no diplomatic ties with North Korea is now considering economic sanctions.

North Korea meanwhile has countered that the abductions were small scale and that Japan has never really apologized for its brutal colonization of Korea between 1910-1945.