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Koizumi vows to continue shrine visits
(China Daily/agencies)
Updated: 2004-04-08 08:58

A Japanese court on April 7 ruled that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi violated the constitution by visiting a shrine honouring Japan's military war dead.

Dressed in the long pleated trousers of a traditional, formal Japanese costume, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, left, follows the chief Shinto priest Tadashi Yuzawa as he visits Yasukuni Shrine honoring Japan's war dead, in Tokyo to pay homage in this Jan. 1, 2004 file photo. [Reuters]
It was a landmark admonishment of Koizumi's annual pilgrimages that have angered China and other Asian neighbours, but the prime minister vowed to keep visiting Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, where war criminals are among those honoured.

Critics in Japan and abroad regard the shrine as a symbol of the nation's militaristic past.

"It's strange," Koizumi told reporters after news of the court ruling. "I don't know why it violated the constitution." Asked if he would return to the shrine, he replied: "I will."

In the first such ruling against Koizumi's visits, the Fukuoka District Court in southwestern Japan said the prime minister's visit to Yasukuni on August 13, 2001 violated the constitutional separation of religion and state.

The court, however, rejected a demand by 211 plaintiffs for damages of 100,000 yen (US$945) each.

"Despite strong opposition from within the (ruling) Liberal Democratic Party and ordinary citizens, Koizumi went four times to Yasukuni, which cannot be said to be the best place to honour war dead," Kyodo news agency quoted the court as saying in its ruling. "This was based on political calculations."

Koizumi had pledged to visit Yasukuni as prime minister when he was campaigning in April 2001, a promise aimed in part at attracting support from a powerful association of veterans and relatives of war dead.

He has repeatedly stated his visits are to pray for peace and that Japan should never again go to war.

Other lawsuits have been filed against Koizumi's visits to the shrine and lawyers said yesterday's ruling could affect those on which verdicts are still pending.

"This is an epoch-making ruling," said Junichi Kusanagi, a lawyer who filed a similar suit on which the court declined to rule on the constitutionality of the visits.

"Now that such a ruling has been handed down, Prime Minister Koizumi should declare that he will stop visiting Yasukuni shrine in his capacity as prime minister."

The visits have frayed ties with China, where many still have bitter memories of Japan's military aggression before and during World War II.

"We hope Japanese leaders can listen carefully to the voices of various parties, abide by their commitments to self-examination of the history of aggression and give up their mistaken ways on the Yasukuni Shrine issue, so as to gain the trust of the international community through concrete actions," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

A South Korean government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said South Korea wanted an end to the shrine visits. "It is difficult to imagine that this ruling will put an end to the issue," the official said.

Some Japanese courts appear to be growing more inclined to favour plaintiffs in cases related to Japan's wartime actions. The Niigata District Court in northern Japan last month ordered the government and a transport firm to compensate a group of Chinese who were forced to toil in Japan during World War II.

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