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Thursday, April 8, 2004
Prime minister pledges Yasukuni return
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Wednesday that he will keep visiting Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine despite a Fukuoka District Court ruling that his August 2001 trip there, the first of four, violated the Constitution.
Dedicated to Japan's war dead, the Shinto shrine in Chiyoda Ward also honors convicted Class-A war criminals. It served as a spiritual pillar of the nation during the war and is still regarded by other parts of Asia as a symbol of Japan's wartime military aggression.
Article 20 of the Constitution stipulates that the state and its organs must refrain from religious education or any other religious activity.
But Koizumi, who in the August 2001 trip to the shrine signed the visitors' book as "Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi," told reporters after the Wednesday morning ruling: "I don't understand why (visits) are unconstitutional."
Asked by reporters if he will keep visiting the contentious shrine, he said, "Yes I will."
During the suit litigation, the state argued that Koizumi had visited the shrine in the capacity of a private person, not as prime minister, despite the manner in which he had signed the visitors' log. The court ruled, however, that he had conducted the August 2001 visit in his official capacity as prime minister.
When personally asked whether he had visited the shrine as "a private person" or as prime minister, Koizumi, apparently wary of a reaction from relatives of the war dead, was equivocal.
"I don't know. I'm a public figure and private individual at the same time," he reckoned. "Junichiro Koizumi, an individual who is also the prime minister, paid the visit."
Many veterans and relatives of the war dead are part of a major Liberal Democratic Party support group.
Later in the day, Koizumi reluctantly said he had paid the visit as a private person, but at the same time rejected any plans to change the manner in which he makes visits to clarify that he is not visiting in his official capacity.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told a separate news conference that the government will not appeal the ruling because the state "won" the case. The court rejected the plaintiffs' compensation claims.