August 15, 2006

CORRECTED: Japan PM defies China, S.Korea with war shrine

Corrects spelling of Abes first name in paragraph three.

By Teruaki Ueno and Chisa Fujioka

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi
paid his respects at Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine for war dead on
Tuesday, the anniversary of his country's World War Two
surrender, defying warnings from China and South Korea not to

The parting shot by the outgoing Japanese leader prompted
angry protests from Beijing and Seoul, although Koizumi denied
his pilgrimage had been intended to glorify war.

Koizumi is set to step down in September and his heir
apparent, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, declined again to
say whether he would visit the shrine if he became premier.

The Shinto shrine honors Japanese World War Two leaders
convicted as war criminals along with 2.5 million war dead and
is considered a symbol of Japan's past militarism in the two
Asian countries, which bore the brunt of Japanese aggression.

Koizumi, wearing a morning suit and looking solemn as he
followed behind a Shinto priest clad in traditional robes,
bowed before entering the inner shrine as a steady rain fell.
The visit, carried live on Japanese TV, was over in minutes.

The pilgrimage was the first by a Japanese prime minister
on the August 15 anniversary since Yasuhiro Nakasone went there
on the emotive date in 1985, setting off howls of protest in

Tokyo's ties with Beijing and Seoul are already at their
worst in decades, partly because of Koizumi's annual

On Tuesday China said Koizumi's shrine visits were
"wrecking the political foundations of China-Japan relations"
and summoned Japan's ambassador to register its protest.

"Prime Minister Koizumi has constantly on historical issues
hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and lost the
confidence, not only of the international community, but also
the Japanese people," China's Foreign Ministry added in a

South Korea, which on Tuesday celebrated the anniversary of
its liberation from Japanese colonial rule, was similarly

"The Japanese prime minister's visit to the Yasukuni shrine
is a total disrespect for the Korean government and people,
particularly on our independence day and the day of the end
(of) World War Two," South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon
told reporters in the Australian capital, Canberra.

Experts say Washington is also worried about Japan's
deteriorating ties with China and South Korea.


Later, Koizumi and Emperor Akihito -- son of the late
Emperor Hirohito, in whose name the war was fought -- attended
a national memorial service in honor of Japan's war dead.

"Our country inflicted great loss and suffering
particularly on people of Asia. On behalf of the Japanese
people, I would like to humbly express condolences for the
victims," Koizumi said, standing in front of a stark altar
behind which were Japan's national flag and banks of

Koizumi defended his decision to visit Yasukuni shrine on
the symbolic day and criticized Beijing and Seoul for refusing
to hold bilateral summits because of the feud over the shrine.

"I do not go to justify the past war or to glorify
militarism," he told reporters. "I go with the feeling that we
should not wage war again and that we must not forget the
sacrifice of those who went to war and died."

Critics argue Koizumi's visits reflect Japan's failure to
face up to its wartime past, including atrocities in Asia.

The shrine, which played a central role in the wartime
state religion that helped mobilize the nation to fight in the
name of a divine emperor, considers 14 wartime leaders
convicted by an Allied tribunal as Class A war criminals to be

A museum on its grounds depicts the Pacific war as one
Japan was forced to fight in self-defense and has been
criticized for ignoring atrocities committed by Japanese.

Koizumi, 64, has visited the shrine every year since he
took office in 2001 but until Tuesday never on August 15
despite a campaign promise to do so.

Nationalist supporters of the shrine holding banners stood
out among the crowds at Yasukuni and some right-wingers
attacked a van carrying opponents of the shrine visit, throwing
rocks and chasing it away before riot police moved in.

Japanese public opinion is divided on whether the prime
minister should make pilgrimages to Yasukuni.

Many Japanese business leaders, concerned the diplomatic
chill could hurt vital economic ties with booming China, have
made clear they want the next prime minister to halt the

Abe, 51, has defended the pilgrimages and went there this
time last year. Media say he also paid a secret visit in April.

On Tuesday, Abe, a security hawk known for his tough stance
toward China and North Korea, stressed the need for dialogue to
remove misunderstandings, and said final judgment on who bore
the heaviest responsibility for the war should be left to

(Additional reporting by Elaine Lies and Chikako Endo in
Tokyo, Chris Buckley in Beijing and Jack Kim in Seoul)