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Japan police search for suspects in vandalism at controversial war shrine

FILE - People queue to pay respects to the war dead at Yasukuni Shrine, Aug. 15, 2022, in Tokyo.
FILE - People queue to pay respects to the war dead at Yasukuni Shrine, Aug. 15, 2022, in Tokyo.

Japanese police are searching for the suspects who spray-painted the word "toilet" on a Tokyo shrine that commemorates the country's war dead, in an apparent protest against the release of treated radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, officials and news reports said.

The red graffiti on a stone pillar at the entrance of Yasukuni Shrine was discovered early Saturday. In a video posted on Chinese social media, a man who identified himself as Iron Head criticized the discharge of wastewater from the damaged nuclear power plant into the ocean.

"Faced with the Japanese government's permission to discharge nuclear wastewater, can we do anything?" the man asks. "No, I will give them some color to see."

In another part of the video taken at night, he is seen apparently urinating on the pillar and using spray paint to write "toilet" in English.

Tokyo police are investigating at least two suspects, the person who appeared in the video and another who shot it, according to Japanese media including NHK public television and Kyodo News agency. The reports said police believed the incident occurred late Friday after the shrine closed and that the perpetrator is believed to have already left Japan, they said.

Police declined to confirm the reports.

Yasukuni Shrine, in a statement emailed to The Associated Press, said the graffiti was "extremely regrettable" and said it was "an act of degrading the dignity of the shrine." The shrine said it will continue patrolling so that visitors can pay respects in "a tranquil environment." Yasukuni Shrine declined further comment, saying it has reported the damage to police and investigation is under way.

The discharge of wastewater from the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant has been opposed by fishing groups and neighboring countries, especially China, which imposed a ban on all imports of Japanese seafood immediately after the release began in August. The ban has particularly affected Japanese scallop growers and exporters to China.

Yasukuni Shrine honors about 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including convicted war criminals. Victims of Japanese aggression during the first half of the 20th century, especially China and the Koreas, see the shrine as a symbol of Japanese militarism. The countries criticize visits by Japanese lawmakers to the shrine as signs of their lack of remorse over Japan's wartime actions.

The graffiti appeared to have been cleaned by Monday.