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Japanese WWII Shrine Sparks Protests - 2001-08-12

In Japan, pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to cancel a planned visit to a war shrine that honors fallen soldiers, including convicted war criminals.

A protest Saturday by a group of relatives of Koreans conscripted by the Japanese army in World War II came a day after Mr. Koizumi met with key members of his coalition to discuss whether he should go ahead with the planned visit. Mr. Koizumi was expected to decide the diplomatically sensitive issue after a late night meeting Friday with key members of Japan's ruling coalition. But the prime minister said he needed more time before he decides whether to go ahead with the visit on August 15, the anniversary of the end of the war.

China and South Koea, victims of Japanese militarism before and during World War II, have been pushing for Mr. Koizumi to cancel the visit. The issue also has split Mr. Koizumi's Cabinet.

On Saturday, nine South Koreans, wearing traditional white mourning dress, asked that the names of their relatives be removed from the list of veterans honored at the shrine in central Tokyo. Members of the group said they were beginning a four-day hunger strike to underscore their demand that Mr. Koizumi cancel his visit.

Kim Chong-dae, a protest leader, said: "I am here with all my heart to ask Mr. Koizumi to listen to our wishes. If Mr. Koizumi shows respect, and stops his visit to the shrine, we can have friendly relations with Japan and more hope in our lives."

Shortly afterwards, a handful of right-wing nationalists entered the grounds of the shrine, shouting "Koreans go home."

The Yasukuni shrine honors two and a half million fallen soldiers, including several convicted war criminals. Among them is General Hideki Tojo, a wartime prime minister.