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TOKYO (Reuters) - Eight nations renewed pressure on Japan over international parental child abductions on Friday, a day after the release of a U.S. citizen who had been held in Japan on suspicion of trying to kidnap his own children.
The issue has long been a source of irritation in ties with the United States and other governments, which criticise Tokyo for not signing the Hague Convention on child abduction, which aims to protect children from cross-border abduction by a parent.
Ambassadors from Britain, Canada, France, Italy, New Zealand, Spain and the United States and a senior diplomat from Australia called on Justice Minister Keiko Chiba to urge her to sign the agreement.
"When one parent abducts a child with the intention of denying the other parent contact with his or her child, it is a tragedy for all concerned," they said in a joint statement released after the meeting.
Diplomats said earlier this year there were well over 100 cases in which foreign nationals' former Japanese spouses are denying them contact with their children. The Hague Convention aims to ensure that such children are returned to their country of residence and decisions on custody made there.
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has been reported as saying he wants to join the 80 countries that have endorsed the convention.
But the issue is complicated by the fact that Japanese courts generally avoid involvement in family issues and do not enforce custody agreements even in divorce arrangements between Japanese nationals.
"Any close relationship has disagreements and this is an important disagreement between our two countries," U.S. ambassador John Roos told reporters this month.
Christopher Savoie was arrested on suspicion of trying to abduct his 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, who were on their way to school with his ex-wife last month, domestic media reported.
Media reports said his Japanese wife had moved the children to Japan illegally after a U.S. court awarded him custody. An embassy spokesman said he understood Savoie had been released on Thursday.
(Reporting by Isabel Reynolds and Linda Sieg, Editing by Ron Popeski)

Reuters