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Despite protest, Japanese lawmakers visit shrine today
Updated: 2004-10-19 14:28

Nearly 80 Japanese lawmakers on Tuesday visited a Tokyo war shrine that its Asian neighbors say glorifies the nation's militarist past, ignoring China's warning that such visits damaged relations between the two Asia giant states.

The group of ruling Liberal Democratic Party leaders and opposition party members visited Yasukuni Shrine to pay respects to the war dead for a fall festival, said Hisanori Hiraoka, secretary to LDP lawmaker Yasu Kano, who helped organize the trip.

A Shinto priest leads Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Tsutomu Takebe (R) and other lawmakers at the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo honouring Japan's war dead, October 19, 2004. Seventy-nine lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties visited the shrine on Tuesday for its annual fall festival. No cabinet members went. [Reuters]
Aides representing 81 other lawmakers also joined the tour.

The visit comes just after China's latest warning that Japanese leaders' repeated visit to Yasukuni has hurt relations between the two countries and that they should stop.

Nearly 2.5 million war dead, including executed war criminals, are worshipped at Yasukuni Shrine as "deities." Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has gone to the shrine four times since becoming Japan's leader in April 2001 and said he would continue to do so.

China, South Korea and other Asian countries still harbor bitter memories of Japan's atrocities during World War II.

Top-level political dialogue between Tokyo and Beijing has stalled since January, when Koizumi last visited the shrine. Beijing has also refused to accept Tokyo's proposal for talks between Koizumi and top Chinese leaders.

Koizumi, however, has repeatedly said he would continue his annual visits to Yasukuni , and again defended his visits Monday.

"I understand (the shrine visit) is an unpleasant event for China," Koizumi said. "But I don't think it is right to conform so easily to what another country says is wrong just because they have a different opinion about how to honor the dead."

Echoing his views, LDP leader Tsutomu Takebe, who visited Yasukuni, told reporters Tuesday that, "it is only my natural desire to pay respect at the shrine."

Chinese envoy: Ties with Japan hampered by shrine visits

Wang Yi, China's new ambassador to Japan, said Monday that relations between the two Asian neighbors have been hampered due to Japanese leaders' repeated visits to a Tokyo war shrine that Japan's neighbors say glorifies the country's aggressive past.

Wang said that friendship between China and Japan has not moved in a "favorable direction" compared to rapid expansion in trade and economy between the two countries.

"The biggest obstacle hampering healthy and smooth political relations is the Yasukuni (Shrine) issue, and we should try to remove it," Wang said at a news conference. "The Yasukuni issue is a test for Japan to show if it can properly atone for its past."

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has gone to the shrine four times since becoming Japan's leader in April 2001 and said he would continue to do so, but he avoided visiting the shrine in August, the anniversary of the end of the war. Several other Cabinet ministers and dozens of lawmakers also make annual visits.

Worshipping at the shrine is "unacceptable," Wang said, adding that the issue is not a domestic or cultural issue for Japan but a diplomatic one.

"I hope Japanese leaders would think twice and try to avoid hurting the feelings of the Chinese for our friendship and long-term benefit," he said.

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