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Koizumi Moves Up Shrine Visit

Aug. 15 Date Was Misunderstood, He Says; Seoul Protests

Aug 13,2001
TOKYO -Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi paid his promised visit to the Yasukuni Shrine to Japan's war dead on Monday, two days ahead of schedule.

Leaving his official residence, Mr. Koizumi arrived at the shrine in a five-car motorcade about 4:30 p.m.

After being led by a Shinto priest, he bowed his head once and signed in as "Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi."

Mr. Koizumi declined to state whether the visit was in a private or public capacity, but said, "I paid sincere homage as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi."

For months, Mr. Koizumi had said that he would visit the shrine on Wednesday, the 56th anniversary of Japan's World War II surrender.

"As Aug. 15 draws nearer," the prime minister said in explanation of his change of plan, "my intention was being taken in a way I did not intend, both at home and abroad. I think from the bottom of my heart that I want to promote friendship with China, South Korea and other neighboring countries. It has become clear that the visit, if made on Aug. 15, would be taken in the wrong way, but that wouldn't be what I desire."

A change of date had been urged by China, which had suggested that the visit, though still offensive to it, would not cause a major crisis if it came on any other day than Aug. 15.

The South Korean government issued a statement of protest Monday after Mr. Koizumi's visit.

"The South Korean government deeply regrets that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Yasukuni Shrine, a symbol of past Japanese militarism, in spite of continued expression of concern by our government and strong opposition within Japan," the South Korean Foreign Ministry said.

The statement expressed serious reservations about Mr. Koizumi's stated commitment to promoting peace, noting that he was paying respects to war criminals who had destroyed peace.

The Society for the Bereaved Families of Pacific War Victims, which sent hunger strikers to camp out near the prime minister's official residence, said, "The visit turns to nil the expressions of apology forwarded by former prime ministers."

On the streets of Seoul, several protests turned violent. Some 20 members of a group calling itself the "Save the Nation Commando" cut off the tips of their little fingers near Independence Gate Park in downtown Seoul.

Mr. Koizumi is the third Japanese prime minister to pay a visit to the shrine, where the names of about 2.5 million Japanese dead in all its wars since 1880 are recorded, without distinction be-tween those who served honorably and some who were convicted of war crimes.

Former Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto paid his respects at the shrine on his birthday in July 1996, and Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone made a public visit on Aug. 15, 1985.

by Oh Day-young




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