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Thursday, June 29, 2006

No harm in Yasukuni visits, Abe figures

Focus now on if Koizumi's apparent successor will visit shrine on Aug. 15


Staff writer

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe indicated Wednesday he sees no problem with the prime minister visiting Yasukuni Shrine or in how many times such a trip is made.

Abe, the government's hawkish top spokesman, is regarded as the front-runner in the race to replace Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who will step down in September. Abe has also visited the shrine and has been supportive of Koizumi's visits.

Koizumi said Tuesday that visiting the war-linked shrine is a matter of personal choice.

"I think (his opinion) is right," Abe, 51, told a regular news conference Wednesday while carefully declining to say whether he would visit the contentious shrine if he succeeds Koizumi as Liberal Party President and hence prime minister.

Koizumi's remark, made during an official trip to Canada, was widely interpreted as a signal that he might visit the shrine again before his LDP presidency expires in September.

The Shinto shrine in Tokyo honors the war dead as well as Class-A war criminals, including wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo. Koizumi's annual pilgrimages to the shrine have brought relations with China and South Korea to their worst point in recent memory.

Koizumi was elected LDP head, and thus prime minister, in April 2001, after promising to visit the shrine on Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.

Although he has visited Yasukuni once a year since taking office, he has yet to do so on Aug. 15, the most symbolic day for Japan's veterans. As his LDP presidency winds down, speculation on whether he will take his last chance to fulfill that pledge will continue to be a focus of political attention.

A visit would inevitably draw a fresh round of diplomatic rebuke from China and South Korea and impact the LDP presidential election as well, where the visits are expected to be a major issue.

Behind Abe in the Koizumi succession polls is former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, who has repeatedly criticized Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni.

Speculation is high that Abe and Fukuda are delaying their official announcements for entering the LDP presidential brace until mid-August, when they can see if Koizumi actually visits the shrine on the surrender anniversary and gauge the political fallout.

Last Aug. 15, the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, Abe, who was not then chief Cabinet secretary, paid homage at Yasukuni in the full glare of the media spotlight.

Political insiders are waiting to see whether he will visit again this year.



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The Japan Times

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