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Japanese PM Says his Pledge to Visit War Shrine 'Still Valid'

South Korea has urged Japan not to impede bilateral relations, after Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi reaffirmed a pledge to visit a controversial war shrine next week.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon, who is visiting Japan, warned Japanese Foreign Minister Aso Taro Tuesday that Mr. Koizumi's plans could affect diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Earlier Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi reaffirmed his 2001 campaign pledge to visit the Yasukuni war shrine on August 15, the anniversary of Japan's World War II surrender. The prime minister has visited the shrine before, but never on August 15. His visits have always been controversial, because convicted war criminals are among the dead enshrined there.

Neighbors China and South Korea object to the visits because they say they glorify Japan's wartime aggression in the region.

The Yasukuni shrine was built in the 19th century, at a time when Japan's state religion was Shinto, an ancient system of animist beliefs that accorded divine status to members of the imperial family. The link between Shinto and the Japanese state ended after World War II.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.