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Koizumi Cautioned on Visits to Shrine

June 12, 2005|From Times Wire Services

TOKYO — In an unexpected move, a powerful conservative group representing families of Japan's war dead has asked Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to reconsider his visits to a controversial shrine because they are causing tension with other Asian countries.

The Japan Assn. for the Bereaved Families of the War Dead, which has long backed visits by Japanese prime ministers to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, cautioned Koizumi about his annual pilgrimages, saying, "It is necessary to give consideration to neighboring countries and obtain their understanding." The group issued the statement at a meeting of its senior members in Tokyo.

The Yasukuni Shrine honors Japan's 2.5 million war dead, including wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and 13 other leaders convicted of the most serious war crimes by a 1946-48 international tribunal in Tokyo. Koizumi's visits there have outraged China and other Asian countries that suffered during Japan's conquest of the region.

The association -- a major backer of Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party -- has opposed constructing an alternative site to honor the war dead. It has also influenced the portrayal of history in Japanese school textbooks, some of which have been denounced for glossing over wartime atrocities committed by Japanese forces.

In its statement, the group said the families did not want Koizumi's pilgrimages to turn into a political problem for Japan and urged him to consider the criticism of China and South Korea before any further visits.

Koizumi is facing increasing pressure to end his visits, including calls from senior officials in his own party and from former prime ministers.

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