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Japanese Prime Minister's War Shrine Visit Angers Many - 2002-04-24

Angry reactions to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's Sunday visit to a war shrine continue across Northeast Asia. China has postponed a scheduled visit by the Japanese defense minister and delayed port calls in Japan of Chinese naval vessels. North Korea, too, denounced Mr. Koizumi's visit as reckless.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Wednesday he respects China's decision to put off bilateral defense talks. The meeting between Japanese Defense Agency chief General Nakatani and Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian was to be held next week in Beijing, but China said the prime minister's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine made the timing inappropriate.

Chief government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda told reporters he thinks "there will be another opportunity for the defense chief to visit China." He adds that "Beijing's decision will not damage Sino-Japanese ties."

The Shrine memorializes Japanese soldiers who died on the battlefield, but also honors convicted war criminals, remembered throughout Asia as the architects of Japan's bid to dominate the region before and during World War II.

Mr. Koizumi has hinted his visit was timed to limit diplomatic fallout by avoiding the August 15 anniversary of Japan's World War II surrender, but China and South Korea did not agree and filed formal diplomatic protests.

China also postponed the first call by Chinese warships at a Japanese port, planned for mid-May. However, Beijing says that Zeng Qinghong, a key aide to Chinese President Jiang Zemin will visit Tokyo at the end of this month, as planned.

North Korea also lashed out at Japan for the prime minister's trip to the war shrine, calling it a blatant challenge to the peace-loving people in Asia and the rest of the world. It also said the move can never be pardoned because it is Japan's attempt to cover up its militaristic past.

The denunciation comes less than a week before Red Cross officials from Pyongyang and Tokyo meet in Beijing. They will discuss the issue of 11 Japanese nationals which Tokyo says were kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970's and 1980's. North Korea denies any role in the alleged abductions, which remain a key obstacle to the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two former enemies.

In Taiwan, there was a small demonstration Tuesday by about one dozen people outside of Japan's representative office in Taipei, but the government has avoided criticizing Mr. Koizumi.

In South Korea, eight men slashed a live pig near the Japanese embassy to protest what they called Japan's failure to atone for its World War II atrocities. They said that the pig was a symbol of an unrepentant Japan.