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Japan's PM under pressure over shrine visit
( 2001-08-02 13:20 ) (7 )

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi faced mounting pressure on Thursday over his planned visit to a shrine for war dead that has upset Asian neighbours, as religious groups and his coalition ally urged him to rethink.

Christian organisations and other peace activists, including a group of war veterans, demonstrated outside the prime minister's residence and handed officials a letter for Koizumi urging him to give up paying homage at Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine.

"The prime minister should think about why the Yasukuni visit invites strong criticism both at home and from overseas... We strongly demand that he cancel the visit and thereby move a step toward friendly relations with our neighbours," the letter said.

"He is the one who has the highest responsibility for the nation and he must not make a mistaken decision," Shigenori Nishikawa, a representative of the group, said.

"Otherwise, we will become a country that Asia cannot trust."

Yasukuni is dedicated to Japan's 2.5 million war dead since the 19th century but also enshrines wartime military leaders convicted as war criminals for their roles in Japan's invasion of Asia in the 1930s and 1940s.

China and the two Koreas, victims of Japan's wartime aggression, have strongly protested Koizumi's plan to visit the shrine on August 15, the anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II.

"If the prime minister were to visit Yasukuni...it is inevitable that countries that suffered Japan's aggression will see it as the prime minister approving of the war led by the class-A war criminals," the groups said in their letter.


Koizumi's plan has also led to bickering inside his cabinet, with his foreign minister and the main partner in his ruling bloc opposing the idea.

The Buddhist-backed New Komeito Party, the second-largest party in the three-way ruling bloc led by Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), on Wednesday decided to ask the prime minister to reconsider the visit and to possibly change its date.

The Tokyo Shimbun metropolitan daily said the party, judging that Koizumi's will to visit was strong, will ask him to do so on another day, rather than abandon the visit altogether.

"A private visit is guaranteed under the freedom of religion. If it is on a different day from the (August) 15th, then it should be fine," the paper quoted a party official as saying.

Another option being considered is for Koizumi to issue a statement explaining the visit if he does go ahead.

The English language Japan Times newspaper said Koizumi might make a personal statement explaining his feelings and why he wants to pay homage at Yasukuni, as well as pledging that Japan will remain a peaceful nation, working for world prosperity.

Koizumi has repeatedly stressed that the visit is to honour the nation's war dead, and that Japan must never again go to war.


Popular Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka has also urged Koizumi to change his mind out of concern over the diplomatic fallout.

Japan's ties with Asian neighbours have also been strained by spats over trade and fishing rights and a dispute over Japan's approval of a history textbook that critics -- including China and South Korea -- say tries to whitewash its wartime atrocities.

Tokyo rejected South Korean calls for major changes to the textbook and in retaliation, Seoul said it would scale back cultural and military contacts and threatened to boycott educational exchanges with Japan.

The deadline for school boards to decide whether to adopt the controversial text is also August 15.

Fewer that 10 percent of Japan's school boards are likely to adopt the junior high textbook, according to a survey by the conservative Yomiuri Shimbun this week.



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