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Japan's prime minister defends war shrine visits
Updated: 2006-01-04 10:39

Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Wednesday defended his visits to a shrine honoring the country's war dead, a practice which has outraged Asian countries that suffered under Japanese wartime atrocities.

Koizumi said he was baffled by Chinese and South Korean leaders turning down meetings with him because of his annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japanese veterans including convicted war criminals from World War II.

"I do not understand why foreign governments interfere with a spiritual issue and try to turn it into a diplomatic issue," he said in a nationally televised news conference marking the start of the new year.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi speaks at a New Year's news conference at the premier's official residence in Tokyo January 4, 2006.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi speaks at a New Year's news conference at the premier's official residence in Tokyo January 4, 2006.[Reuters]
He said that a leader has the right to express respect to a country's war dead, and that the Yasukuni visits merely show his resolve to never wage war again.

Koizumi has continued his annual visits to the shrine despite demands from China and South Korea that he stop. The two countries suffered under Japan's World War II-era military atrocities and brutal colonial rule.

He said it was up to Beijing and Seoul to resume top-level contacts with Japan.

"I have never tried to close dialogue with China and South Korea. The door remains open," he said. "Every nation has differences of opinion with others, and we should not close down dialogue just because of one problem."

Also Wednesday, Koizumi reaffirmed his belief that Tokyo's defense relations with Washington are more critical than its ties with other nations.

"The United States is the only nation in the world that sees an attack on Japan as an attack on itself," he said.

However, he denied he was suggesting that Japan's relations with the United States are the only ones that matter.

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