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South Korea's Top Diplomat Urges Likely Koizumi Successor to Ease 'History Problem'


South Korea's foreign minister is asking the man considered most likely to succeed Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to be aware of regional sensibilities over Japan's militaristic past. With the anniversary of Japan's World War II defeat less than a week away, Mr. Koizumi is hinting he will fulfill a pledge to visit a shrine that many Koreans associate with Japan's wartime atrocities.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has indicated he will visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo next week, once again risking inflaming emotions here in South Korea.

Mr. Koizumi told reporters Wednesday he had made a promise to Japanese voters to visit Yasukuni Shrine, and says he feels pledges should be kept.

August 15, the day Mr. Koizumi plans for the visit, will be the 61st anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II.

Yasukuni honors several million Japanese war dead - including more than a dozen convicted Japanese war criminals.

For many Koreans, the shrine is a symbol of Japan's atrocities during World War II and its harsh colonial rule over the Korean peninsula in the early 20th century.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon met in Tokyo Wednesday morning with Mr. Koizumi's probable successor, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe. After he spoke to reporters. He says Japan and South Korea are in a difficult situation over problems dealing with history which are "regrettable." He says he hopes Abe will play his part in seeking a solution to those problems.

South Korea and China have repeatedly criticized visits to Yasukuni by high-profile Japanese politicians - including several by Mr. Koizumi during his tenure as prime minister - saying they demonstrate that Japan has not made a true break with its imperial past.

Some Japanese political commentators say Abe may be inclined to show more discretion about visiting the shrine than Mr. Koizumi. He has refused to confirm Japanese media reports that he visited the shrine privately last April, and will not say if he might pay a visit in the future.

In comments Wednesday, Abe indicated a willingness to discuss South Korea's concerns. He says if there is a misunderstanding between the two countries, it should be dealt with.

There are signs of opposition among the Japanese public to visits to Yasukuni. In a recent poll by Japan's largest newspaper, the Yomiuri daily, slightly more than 50 percent of respondents said whoever replaces Mr. Koizumi should avoid the shrine.

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