JAPANESE LEADER PRAYS AT WAR SHRINE
By JOSEPH COLEMAN, Associated Press Writer August 15, 2006
TOKYO - Ignoring protests at home and abroad, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited a shrine memorializing
Japan's war dead Tuesday, and a few hours
later a possible arson fire burned down the home and office of a lawmaker who has criticized the leader's pilgrimages.
Koizumi went to Yasukuni
Shrine on the anniversary of Japan's World War II surrender to fulfill a 2001 campaign promise, shrugging off several days
of demonstrations in Tokyo by those who feel the shrine glorifies Japanese militarism and complaints from China and South Korea.
The visit further strained
ties with the neighboring nations already driven to their lowest point in decades by Koizumi's earlier visits to Yasukuni
and a host of spats over territory, natural resources and other issues.
Koizumi, however, is scheduled
to leave office at the end of September, which means his successor — likely Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe —
will start his term with fresh diplomatic troubles on his hands.
"It was a self-righteous
decision," said Yoshinori Murai, a political scientist at Tokyo's Sophia University. "Japan will be isolated if it shows it doesn't care about criticisms from home and
The Yomiuri newspaper said
Wednesday Japan's Foreign Ministry is trying to arrange a summit with China
and South Korea by year's end to mend
ties frayed by Koizumi's visit to the shrine.
"As a government policy,
it is certain that the prime minister will change and we hope there will be close dialogue at the summit level," Foreign Ministry
spokesman Noriyuki Shikata said.
Korea said Wednesday there
won't be a summit with Japan if visits
to the shrine continue.
The shrine honors Japan's 2.5 million war dead, including executed war criminals
from World War II. Many in Asia see Koizumi's visits as proof Japan
has not atoned for its past aggression.
The impact of the visit
was heightened by its timing on Aug. 15, a date viewed with sadness in Japan
as the anniversary of its World War II surrender, but celebrated as a day of liberation from Japanese colonial rule elsewhere
The angry response from
China and South Korea
"On behalf of the Chinese
government and the Chinese people, I express strong indignation and severely condemn" the visit, Chinese Foreign Minister
Li Zhaoxing told Japanese Ambassador Yuji Miyamoto in Beijing.
South Korean President Roh
Moo-hyun called on Japan to "prove it
has no intention to repeat" its past aggression as his government summoned the Japanese ambassador to issue an official protest.
Koizumi defended the visit
— his sixth to Yasukuni since 2001 but his first on Aug. 15 as prime minister — by saying he goes there to pray
for peace and to honor fallen soldiers, not to celebrate militarism. Dozens of lawmakers also prayed there Tuesday.
"I don't go there to repeat
the past war and justify the war," he told reporters after the visit. "We should not forget the sacrifices made by those who
fell for the country."
Koizumi accused China and South Korea of using the issue
to pressure Japan on other issues. Leaders
of both countries have refused to meet with Koizumi unless he stopped the pilgrimages.
His pilgrimage drew praise
from some Japanese war veterans and rightists who argue the country's leaders should have the right to honor the war dead
as they please.
A fire late Tuesday destroyed
the adjoining house and office of lawmaker Koichi Kato, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party who made numerous
TV appearances during the day criticizing Koizumi for his shrine visit.
Investigators were still
looking into the blaze but arson "could not be ruled out," police official Koji Suzuki said.
An unidentified man was
found collapsed on the grounds with wounds to his abdomen and was taken to a hospital, Suzuki said. It wasn't immediately
clear whether the man was suspected of setting the fire and police declined to release additional details on the man's injuries.
Koizumi's latest visit to
the shrine comes amid Japan's efforts
to take a more assertive role in the world.
His administration has sent
non-combat troops to Iraq, moved to change its constitution
to allow more military action overseas, and launched a determined campaign to win a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
But while Japan's military and diplomatic ties with its top ally, the United States, have prospered, its relations with Asian neighbors have deteriorated.
Anti-Japanese protests flared up last year in several Chinese cities.