01/02/2006, 00.00
JAPAN
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Emperor Akihito pays homage to foreign dead of World War II

He is the first monarch of Tokyo to carry out such a gesture. Premier Koizumi has earmarked "friendly relations" with all countries as a priority, neighbours included.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Japan has embarked on the year 2006 with a desire to improve international ties in the region. The Emperor of Japan, Akihito, has paid homage to foreign victims of World War II and the Premier, Junichiro Koizumi, has said he wants to better relations with "neighbouring countries".

"Three million and one hundred thousand Japanese people died in the war, and many foreigners were also victims. We will never forget the people who lost their lives in the war, and bear in mind that the Japan of today is built on the sacrifice made by those many people," the emperor said. Already on 23 December, to mark his 72nd birthday, he had invited Japan to "accurately understand" its own history. Experts see this as a response to those who accuse Japan of not recognizing wartime atrocities. He is the first Japanese monarch to pay public homage to foreign victims of the Second World War.

Regional ties worsened after criticism levelled against Premier Koizumi by China and South Korea for his visit to the Yasukuni shrine in October. Japan's war dead are honoured at this shrine, including criminals guilty of atrocities. Last week, a Japanese newspaper reported that a Japanese diplomat, who committed suicide in Shanghai in April 2004, was being pressured by the Chinese secret services to reveal secret information; they threatened to reveal his affair with a karaoke hostess. Beijing defined the news as being "baseless".

During his New Year message yesterday, Premier Koizumi said he wanted to use the rest of his mandate (which expires in September) to "advance friendly relations with other countries, including neighbouring countries."

Another significant move is considered to be the likely nomination of Yuji Miyamoto as ambassador to China. The diplomat is an expert on China and has already worked in Beijing. His appointment, revealed by news sources, has not been officially confirmed as yet.

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