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Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012
Abe pays Yasukuni visit amid isle rows
By MASAMI ITO
Liberal Democratic Party President Shinzo Abe paid a visit to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine Wednesday for the annual fall festival, a move expected to increase anger in China and South Korea, with which Japan is currently embroiled in territorial tiffs.
The contentious shrine, which honors the nation's war dead as well as Class-A war criminals, is a symbol to some, particularly in Asia, of Japan's past military aggression, and is a constant source of diplomatic tension.
By visiting Yasukuni, Abe, the hawkish leader of the largest opposition party, may be trying to rally conservatives ahead of the Lower House general election that must be held by next summer. Recent media polls show the LDP could defeat Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his Democratic Party of Japan. If the LDP wins, Abe would stand to become the prime minister, again.
"I came as the president of the LDP to pay my respect to the spirits of the soldiers who gave their lives for the country," Abe said after the visit. "I believe it is common to all countries that their leaders pay respect to the souls of those who died for their countries. It is a way to express the will to maintain peace of their countries and the region."
Abe's visit comes amid strained diplomatic ties with Beijing and Seoul over separate territorial disputes. The government's nationalization of three of the Senkaku isles last month triggered outrage and unprecedented protests and boycotts in China, which also claims the islets, known there as Diaoyu.
Junichiro Koizumi strained relations with China and South Korea by repeated visits to the shrine throughout his five-year stint as LDP prime minister that ended in 2006. When Abe succeeded him, political observers worried he would continue the practice.
Instead, in a surprising move, Abe went to China and South Korea to mend ties. Throughout his one-year stint as prime minister, he refused to confirm or deny visiting the shrine.
However, at a news conference in September during the LDP presidential race, Abe expressed regret for not having visited Yasukuni while in office.