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Japanese Cabinet Ministers Visit Controversial Shrine

In a move certain to upset Japan's Asian neighbors, some members of the Japanese cabinet visited a controversial religious shrine Friday, the 58th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.

Four cabinet ministers paid their respects to Japan's war dead at Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine on Friday. Such visits invariably provoke diplomatic protests in Asia, and Friday's are likely to be all the more controversial because they came on the 58th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.

Many Asians consider the shrine to be a symbol of Japan's past militarism. During the 20th Century, Japan brutally occupied Korea and much of China, where millions of people died or were enslaved before and during the war.

In Shinto religious belief, the spirits of 2.5 million Japanese war dead are enshrined at Yasukuni. They include 14 of Japan's major World War II war criminals, which gives the shrine its particularly controversial nature.

The Chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, one of the cabinet ministers going to Yasukuni Friday in a pouring rain, said he felt he was only doing his patriotic duty.

Sadakazu Tanigaki says he wanted pay homage to those who died in the line of duty and who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the Japanese nation.

Another visitor, Disaster Management Minister Yoshitada Konoike, told reporters he wanted to emphasize peace, and not dwell on the legacy of war.

Mr. Konoike says he visits the shrine every year with a feeling of gratitude for the peace that now exists and thoughts that war should never again be waged.

Two other cabinet members also visited the shrine, as did the governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, who is known for his nationalist and anti-China rhetoric.

Conspicuous by his absence was Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who attended a secular memorial ceremony to mark the end of the war. The prime minister has visited Yasukuni every year since taking office in 2001, although he avoids the August 15 anniversary date, apparently to lessen criticism about visits on such an emotive occasion.

On Monday, during a visit to Japan, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing warned Japanese leaders against going to the controversial shrine. Mr. Li called opposition to such visits a universally held view in the international community.

Some Japanese also oppose politicians' visits to Yasukuni, arguing that they promote a return to militarism, or that they run counter to the separation of state and the Shinto religion.