TOKYO, April 8 (Reuters) - Japan said on Friday it would ban coal imports from Russia in a broad escalation of sanctions that included expelling eight diplomats, in some of its strongest moves yet to protest what it termed "outrageous" actions against civilians in Ukraine.
Japan joined the United States and European Union nations, which this week announced sweeping sanctions such as bans on importing coal and freezing the assets of banks and individuals, including Russian President Vladimir Putin's daughters. read more
"Russia has repeatedly violated international humanitarian law by killing civilians and attacking nuclear power plants.
These are unforgivable war crimes," Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told a news conference.
"With decisive measures (against Russia) and support that meets the Ukrainian people's needs, we will make it clear that the international community will never accept Russia's outrage and Japan stands together with Ukraine."
Earlier, in a rare move for Japan, the Foreign Ministry announced it was expelling eight diplomats and trade representatives as part of a comprehensive judgment that included condemnation of Russia's killing of civilians.
"We call on Russian troops to immediately withdraw. Its propaganda that denies killing civilians and says these incidents are faked by the West are completely unacceptable," Foreign Press Secretary Hikariko Ono told a news conference.
The other new sanctions included a ban on importing certain Russian goods and freezing the assets of top state-owned lender Sberbank.
CHANGE ON COAL
The decision on coal marked a change for Japan, the world's third-largest coal importer, which initially was slow to line up with Western nations banning coal imports.
Earlier on Friday, trade minister Koichi Hagiuda said it would reduce imports gradually while looking for alternative suppliers in the wake of sanctions against Russia after its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine - a move that highlights a potential shift in import-reliant Japan's energy procurement policy.
Russia accounted for 11% of Japan's total coal imports in 2021, according to the government data. Russia was Japan's fifth-biggest supplier of crude and liquefied natural gas (LNG) in 2021. read more
Japan imports nearly all of the coal it consumes, making it the third-largest importer after India and China, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration data.
"We would need to find alternative suppliers or we would face difficulties securing domestic coal which could lead to power outages and such. We need to avoid such a situation," Hagiuda said.
"We will cooperate with Russian sanctions without inflicting a burden on domestic industry".
Kishida said he would work to reduce dependence on other Russian energy sources, including oil, and will compile measures to cope with rising fuel and other price by the end of April in order to shield the Japanese economy.
"The government will compile comprehensive and emergency measures against surging oil and other prices by the end of April in order to urgently and flexibly respond to their impacts on people’s livelihoods," Kishida said.
Japan will coordinate its moves with the United States and European countries, after the Group of Seven (G7) allies issued a statement pledging additional sanctions on Russia in response to its alleged mass killings of civilians in Ukraine.
Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a 'special operation", Japan has stepped up sanctions ranging from removing Moscow from international payment network SWIFT, to freezing central bank assets.
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