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Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Yasukuni 'shouldn't be poll focus'
Mori echoes Koizumi, says visits matter of soul not politics
The question of whether to continue contentious visits to Yasukuni Shrine should not be the focus of campaigns to pick the next prime minister or the Liberal Democratic Party's next president, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori said Monday.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's annual visits to Yasukuni have sparked sharp criticism from China and South Korea, both of which suffered under Japanese occupation.
The Shinto shrine honors Japan's war dead -- and 14 Class-A war criminals.
Koizumi, who will step down at the end of September, has also said the Yasukuni issue should not be a key topic in the campaigns.
"I agree (with Koizumi) that it should not be the focus," Mori said in a speech at the Japan National Press Club. "Koizumi said it is a matter of soul. And if that is so, it should not become a matter of politics."
Even in the LDP faction headed by Mori, pro-China politicians are saying Koizumi's shrine visits are the main obstacle to good diplomatic relations with China and South Korea.
Mori declined to indicate a preference for any candidate.
He said regardless of who the next prime minister will be, the most important tasks will be promoting structural reforms and improving diplomatic relations with other Asian countries.
"I hope the next prime minister will (improve relations with China and South Korea)," he said, without elaborating on how the next prime minister should go about repairing ties.
Mori said earlier this month he has no intention of preventing more than one person in his faction from running in September's election for the LDP presidency.
The remark was widely viewed as a green light for both Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, widely seen as taking a tough stance on Asia, and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, seen as more pro-China, to throw their hats into the ring. The fellow faction members are seen as key candidates to succeed Koizumi.
Mori was earlier known to have favored having only one candidate from the faction run for the party top job, as has been the longtime practice.
But Koizumi, currently LDP president, has indicated he would be unconcerned if two people from the same faction ran.
Neither Abe nor Fukuda has officially declared his candidacy.
Earlier Monday, when asked at a news conference to comment on Fukuda's rising popularity in recent polls, Abe said, "I think it is the public's positive evaluation of former Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukuda's achievements during his long service under the Koizumi administration as chief Cabinet secretary."
Information from Kyodo added