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Sunday, Sept. 16, 2007

Fukuda enters race, vows to avoid Yasukuni


Staff writer

Yasuo Fukuda, who is favored to win the Liberal Democratic Party's presidential election, said Saturday he will not visit war-related Yasukuni Shrine if elected prime minister and vowed to continue Japan's antiterrorism mission in the Indian Ocean.

News photo
Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Taro Aso (left) and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda shake hands at LDP headquarters in Tokyo on Saturday before holding a joint news conference. KYODO PHOTO

"Would you do something your friend doesn't want you to do? I don't think so," Fukuda said at a news conference Saturday morning to declare his candidacy.

"That goes for relationships between countries too. I don't think it is necessary to do something that another (country) doesn't want you to do," he said.

Fukuda and LDP Secretary General Taro Aso registered their candidacies for the Sept. 23 presidential election later in the day.

The race was triggered three days earlier by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's abrupt resignation announcement, which threw the suffering party into crisis. He was later hospitalized.

The LDP vote will involve 528 ballots — 387 cast by Diet members and 141 by prefectural representatives. Whoever wins the presidency is assured of becoming Japan's next leader because the LDP controls the Lower House, where prime ministers are chosen.

Japanese leaders' visits to Yasukuni Shrine have long been a source of friction with Japan's neighbors in Asia because the shrine was the spiritual backbone of Japan's past militarism. It is also the place where 14 Class-A war criminals are enshrined.

Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's annual visits to the shrine sparked anger in South Korea and riots in powerful China.

During a joint news conference Saturday afternoon, both Fukuda and Aso called for extending the special antiterrorism law that allows the Maritime Self-Defense Force to fuel multinational naval ships in the Indian Ocean to support NATO-led activities in and around Afghanistan. The law expires Nov. 1.

The two lawmakers, however, also stressed the need to find other ways to continue the refueling activity, including the possibility of drafting a new law. In this light, they expressed eagerness to hold discussions with the top opposition force, the Democratic Party of Japan, which has vowed to block the special law as unconstitutional.

In the July Upper House election, as the LDP was taking fire for assorted funding scandals and verbal gaffes by its Cabinet ministers, the DPJ led the opposition camp to a landslide victory and control of the Upper House.

The DPJ's cooperation will be essential for the ruling bloc to pass bills, including the antiterrorism law extension.

"We must not forget that Japan was also a victim of the (Sept. 11) terrorist attack," Aso stressed. "The world declared war on terrorism and (Japan) has a duty and an obligation to participate in this."

As for whether Japan should be able to engage in collective defense, which is banned under the Constitution, Fukuda was hesitant about trying to change the government's current interpretation of the supreme code.

"I think it is good to study the issue (of collective defense) and hold discussions," Fukuda said. "But we must carefully consider whether it goes against the Constitution."

Revising the war-renouncing Constitution was one of Abe's key policy goals.



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