September 29, 2005

Court rejects suit over Japan PM war shrine visits

TOKYO (Reuters) - A lawsuit claiming compensation from
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for distress caused
by his visits to a war shrine was dismissed by a Tokyo court on

Japan's Asian neighbours see Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine as a
symbol of Japan's past militarism, and relations with China and
South Korea have deteriorated in recent years, partly over the
prime minister's annual visits. The shrine honours Japan's
military war dead and some executed World War Two war

The plaintiffs, who included several Christians, had argued
that Koizumi's visits to the Shinto shrine violated Japan's
constitutional separation of religion and the state, but the
court ruled that his visits were private acts.

"A major breach of the constitution is taking place, but
the court is closing its eyes to that, or even allowing it,"
said Kazuhiro Uetake, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. "The court
is supporting the visits, and I don't think that should be

Despite angry reactions from China and South Korea, both of
which were victims of Japan's wartime aggression, Koizumi has
said the purpose of his visits is to pray for peace and to
honor the war dead.

Chief government spokesman Hiroyuki Hosoda expressed
satisfaction with the ruling. "I think the ruling recognized
the government's stance and its assertions," Hosoda told a news
conference. He declined further comment.

The plaintiffs, who had sought a total of 3.9 million yen
in compensation, were appealing against a lower court's
rejection of their case.

The group is one of several that have claimed compensation
over Koizumi's visits to the shrine.

While demands for damages have been dismissed in all cases,
the Fukuoka District Court in southwestern Japan ruled in April
2004 that Koizumi had violated the constitution by visiting the

When Koizumi came to power in 2001 he said he would visit
Yasukuni every year, but he has not gone there since January
last year. He has not made clear whether he will visit this
year, repeatedly telling journalists only that he will make "an
appropriate decision."