10/17/2005, 00.00
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Beijing and Seoul protest Koizumi's visit to Yasukuni temple

It is not enough for Koizumi to say his visits were private. In China, they are seen as a serious provocation. In Japan public opinion is divided. Scheduled summit between South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and Koizumi might be cancelled.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China and South Korea as well as part of public opinion in Japan are highly critical of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for visiting the Yasukuni Temple today.

Mr Koizumi, dressed in a grey suit and light-blue tie, paid tribute to Japan's war dead who are honoured at the temple. But Japan's neighbours have protested since the shrine contains the remains of 14 Class-A war criminals responsible for crimes committed during Japan's occupation of Korea (1910-1945) and its invasion of China during the Second World War.

Chinese Ambassador to Japan Wang Yi said Koizumi's act constituted a serious provocation to the Chinese people. He added the Chinese government firmly opposes such visit at any time and in any form.

Japan's Embassy in Beijing was informed to expect possible anti-Japanese demonstrations. There are fears tensions might affect Japanese exports to China whose total value reached US$ 212 billion or 13 per cent of total exports, which makes the People's Republic Japan's second largest overseas market after the United States.

For his part, South Korea's Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon stated: "We strongly protest the visit to Yasukuni shrine despite our request and strongly urge that it is not repeated."

Sun Mira, from South Korea's Foreign Ministry press office, said unless the situation doesn't evolve, it would be difficult for the scheduled summit between South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and Prime Minister Koizumi to go ahead.

Koizumi has always maintained that the temple does not glorify militarism but simply honours Japan's 2.5 million war dead, adding that he visits to the shrine are always done as a private citizen.

However, such claims are not accepted by Japan's neighbours as well as some segments of Japanese public opinion.

In September the Osaka High Court ruled Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni were unconstitutional because they violated the separation between state and religion.

Takenori Kanzaki, leader of the New Komeito party, said that he felt regretful about Koizumi's act.

Seiji Maehara, leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, stated he, too, was opposed to such visits.

Many Japanese however think that Koizumi should not stop the visits just because China wants it. (PB)

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