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Koizumi Criticized for Shrine Visit

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi paid homage Tuesday at a controversial shrine, honoring war dead, including convicted war criminals. China and South Korea both voiced objections, since they view the monument as glorifying Japan's militaristic past. Prime Minister Koizumi went to the Yasukuni Shrine in central Tokyo on Tuesday, marking his third visit in as many years. Japanese television broadcast the visit live, showing the leader dressed in a black morning suit as he followed a Shinto priest through the monument.

Mr. Koizumi says the point of his visit was to show gratitude for peace and pray never to go to war again. He added that his visit does not mark a shift in Japan's ties with its neighbors. But to China, North and South Korea and as well as other Asian countries, the Yasukuni Shrine is a symbol of Japan's militaristic past, including its efforts before and during World War II to dominate Asia. It enshrines 14 convicted, Class-A war criminals, including former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, who was hanged for his crimes in 1948. It also honors 2.5 million Japanese who died in wars.

China expressed disapproval Tuesday, saying the visit could "seriously damage" bilateral ties. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhang Qiyue. She says the visit hurts the feelings of the Chinese people and other Asian countries and urges the Japanese government to treat seriously the issue with the correct attitude.

South Korea expressed deep regret over Mr. Koizumi's surprise visit to the monument, with the government summoning a representative of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul to complain. A Foreign Ministry spokesman says the Japanese leader had again paid respects to war criminals who inflicted indescribable suffering and pain through colonial rule and aggression.

Tuesday's visit comes at a highly sensitive diplomatic time for Japan as it tries to work with its regional neighbors to help de-escalate the nuclear standoff on the Korean Peninsula. But it appears that Tokyo's reluctance to apologize for its brutal war-time rule of its neighbors still hinders better regional relations.

Because of the controversy surrounding the official shrine visits, the Japanese government is considering a plan to build a non-religious memorial for war victims, but it is not clear if it would also include convicted war criminals.