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Japan's Supreme Court Rejects Suit Against PM's War Shrine Visits


Japan's Supreme Court has rejected a lawsuit against Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to a controversial war shrine. This is the first ruling by Japan's high court on a case relating to Mr. Koizumi's annual pilgrimage to the Yasukuni Shrine.

The suit was filed by relatives of Japanese, Chinese and South Korean war dead and argued that the prime minister's visits to the Yasukuni shrine violate Japan's constitutional separation of church and state. The plaintiffs also demanded a token $90 each in damages for the mental distress caused by the visits.

The Shinto shrine honors Japanese war dead, including convicted World War II criminals. Mr. Koizumi has made annual pilgrimages there since becoming prime minister in 2001. But the visits have damaged relations with China, South Korea and other Asian countries - which see them as glorifying Japanese imperialism and the past brutal occupation of much of Asia.

In rejecting the suit Friday, the Japanese Supreme Court said any visit to the shrine - even by a prime minister - that may hurt other people's feelings cannot be seen as violating their rights and does not warrant a claim for damages.

But the court stopped short of ruling on whether Mr. Koizumi's visits violate the constitution.

Hiroshi Kashima, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, says they are disappointed by the court's refusal to decide on the constitutionality of the visits and calls the court ruling "unjust".

The case is one of several filed against the visits. But it is the first to reach the Supreme Court.

Mr. Koizumi, who is stepping down in September, has repeatedly said that he visits the Tokyo shrine not as prime minister but as a private citizen.