Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Growing Anger over Japanese War Memorial Visit ; Protests Follow Prime Minister Koizumi's Snap Call on a Controversial Shrine

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Growing Anger over Japanese War Memorial Visit ; Protests Follow Prime Minister Koizumi's Snap Call on a Controversial Shrine

Article excerpt

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited the country's controversial shrine to its war martyrs yesterday, in a move aimed at softening criticism abroad without losing face at home. He was the first prime minister to make an official visit to the shrine since 1985.

Since his rise to power in April, Mr. Koizumi has said he would visit the Shinto shrine, which is dedicated to some 2.5 million men and women who lost their lives in war, fighting for Japan. But among them are 14 "Class A" war criminals, whose remains were moved to the shrine more than three decades after World War II.

So, Koizumi's compromise gesture yesterday - moving up his visit by two days - did not go over well with Japan's neighbors, who say the Yasukuni shrine glorifies war crimes in China, Korea, and elsewhere in Asia, as well as stirring nationalist sentiment.

By going to the shrine ahead of Aug. 15 - the date that marks Japan's surrender in World War II - Koizumi tried to avoid antagonizing his neighbors.

"I want from the bottom of my heart to maintain friendly ties with China, South Korea, and other Asian nations," Koizumi said during the snap visit, which took place on a holiday when many Japanese leave the cities to visit their ancestral homes. "It became evident that a visit on the 15th would be interpreted in an opposite way, and that is not what I desire."

But the date change did not assuage Beijing. "The Chinese side's standpoint on this issue hasn't changed," China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "We oppose Japanese leaders visiting this shrine that has memorial tablets to Class A war criminals."

Also, at a public protest in Seoul, hours before Koizumi visited the shrine, 20 men each chopped off one of their little fingers to protest the Japanese leader's decision. In South Korea, Aug. 15 is Liberation Day, which marks the end of a brutal 35-year occupation of the Korean Peninsula by Japan.

But, by keeping his promise to the make a visit, Koizumi pleased those Japanese who feel that their country has a right to remember its fallen soldiers as it sees fit. …

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