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Koizumi pledges to make official visit
( 2001-05-14 13:25 ) (7 )


Japan's new prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, on Monday risked further damaging already strained ties with Tokyo's Asian neighbours by reiterating his pledge to visit a controversial war shrine.

Koizumi told the parliament that he planned to visit the Yasukuni Shrine, dedicated to the nation's war dead, including some convicted war criminals.

"I plan to pay a visit as the prime minister...It has nothing to do with religion. I can't understand why one should not do this just because of outside criticism," he told parliament.

While Koizumi had stated his intention to make an official visit to the shrine during his campaign for Japan's top post, he backtracked after taking office late last month, saying he would visit in a private capacity.

Monday's comments are certain to anger Koreas, China and other Asian countries.

"The issue of paying homage to the shrine is in essence an issue of how Japan's government and leaders deal with the history of aggression by Japanese militarists," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi was quoted as saying on Friday.

Ties with China, never easy, have been strained by a string of issues including a visit to Japan last month by former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui and Tokyo's approval of a textbook that critics say glosses over Japan's wartime aggression.

South Korea is also deeply unhappy over the approval of the textbook, written by a group of nationalist scholars.

Last week, Seoul demanded more revisions to the text and said it was postponing joint military exercises with Japan in protest.



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