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Internal affairs minister, 160 lawmakers visit war-linked Yasukuni.

TOKYO, Oct. 18 Kyodo

(EDS: INCORPORATING EARLIER STORY HEADLINED 'INTERNAL AFFAIRS MINISTER SHINDO VISITS YASUKUNI SHRINE')

Japan's internal affairs minister and around 160 lawmakers on Friday visited the Yasukuni Shrine during the annual autumn festival amid soured ties with China and South Korea, which strongly disapprove of elected officials paying respect at the war-linked shrine.

On his first visit to the shrine since Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II, Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Yoshitaka Shindo also paid for an offering with his own money.

"I visited here in a private capacity to pay homage to those who died in the war and to pray for peace," Shindo said. "I don't think it will develop into a diplomatic issue."

Past visits by prime ministers and Cabinet members to the Shinto shrine have angered China and South Korea, both of which suffered Japan's wartime aggression. The shrine is seen as a symbol of Japan's past militarism as it honors convicted Class-A war criminals along with Japan's war dead.

About 160 members of a bipartisan group of lawmakers promoting visits to the shrine went to Yasukuni, close to a record 166 for the group at the spring festival in April, as Japan saw an increase in the number of conservative lawmakers after recent elections in both the upper and lower houses.

"We should continue visiting the shrine. That is the only way to avoid turning this into a diplomatic issue," said Sanae Takaichi, policy chief of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, who also paid a visit earlier in the day, said there is no change in Japan's diplomatic stance.

"The government will continue to strengthen ties with neighboring countries from a broad perspective while making sure these issues (such as Yasukuni) will not affect our relations as a whole," Kato said at a regular press conference.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, often seen as right-leaning, refrained from visiting and instead sent a "masakaki" tree offering on Thursday, in an apparent bid to avoid aggravating ties with Beijing and Soul and to lay the groundwork for future summit talks.

With no official summit talks with the two countries since taking office in December, Abe has refused to say when or whether he would visit the controversial shrine out of concern that it would develop into "a political and diplomatic issue."

But Abe has taken the position that Cabinet ministers should decide for themselves whether to go or not based on their own beliefs.

"The prime minister made his own choice this time, but I think he will eventually visit the shrine," said LDP upper house lawmaker Hidehisa Otsuji, who heads the cross-party group.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Oct 21, 2013
Words:449
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