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Koizumi Urged to Stop Yasukuni Visit

Six decades after Japan's surrender in World War II, hundreds of protestors gathered Monday in Tokyo to demand Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi stop visiting the city's war-related Yasukuni Shrine in consideration of the feelings of other Asian countries that suffered from Japan's aggression.


At a conference sponsored by a group of bereaved families at the Japan Education Center in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, they also called for world peace and the salvage of Japan's pacifist postwar Constitution.


The protestors blasted some Japanese lawmakers for visiting the Yasukuni shrine, which honors 14 notorious Class-A WWII war criminals responsible for Japan's aggression against its Asian neighbors.


Those lawmakers have violated the Constitution that stipulates the separation of religion and the state, the protestors charged. "Article 20 of the Constitution clearly stipulates the separation of religion and the state," said Shigenori Nishikawa, 77, head of the National Association of the War Bereaved Families for Peace. He lost his elder brother in the war.


"And not only the prime minister and emperor but all public servants are obliged to respect and protect our Constitution. At the time of the 60th anniversary, we renew our resolve to have Japan strive for peaceful and friendly relations with other Asian countries," Nishikawa told the gathering.


Protestors then took to the streets in the vicinity of Yasukuni to voice their strong opposition to visits to the shrine. They had previously planned to get closer to the shrine, but were blocked by police who asked them not to do so for fear of possible confrontations with rightist activists, officials of the association said.


Still, there were more than 100 participants walking through the sensitive area, urging Koizumi to stop visiting the Yasukuni Shrine. Police were positioned at the scene preventing propaganda trucks of rightist groups from approaching the demonstrators. "Our young people need more study about our history. I hope Japan will be a country with many youths who can see things from global points of view," said Katsuko Suhako, one of the participants.


Meanwhile, at the secular Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward where unidentified war dead are buried, about 250 people, including parliamentarians from opposition parties, expressed the determination never to forget Japan's responsibility for the war.


"On the day of the 60th anniversary, what we have to do for the world, especially for the Asian people, is to admit our responsibility as the victimizer ... and to show our resolution not to wage a war again," Mizuho Fukushima, head of the Social Democratic Party, told a mass rally at the cemetery.


Koizumi refrained from visiting the shrine on Monday, the 60th anniversary of Japan's surrender. Instead, he visited the cemetery in the morning.


Koizumi last visited the shrine on Jan. 1, 2004. He has visited Yasukuni four times since taking office in April 2001, sparking criticism each time from both Japan and the neighboring countries.


A 69-year-old woman from Tokyo's Minato Ward visited the cemetery for the first time with her family members, saying she wanted to teach her two grandchildren about Japan's wartime atrocities.


"I understand Asian countries feel about the Yasukuni Shrine as the symbol of militarism because I myself had that feeling through the education I received during wartime. I think Prime Minister Koizumi is sticking to the past by visiting the shrine. This just makes the problem drag on," she said.


Bereaved relatives also visited the cemetery, many wearing mourning dress. Among them was Sato Yatabe, 63, from Tokyo's Meguro Ward who lost her father in the war when he was in his 30s. Shinsuke Watanabe, 26, said, "To our generation, the country's aggression war is history, and I think we need to exchange opinions with other young Asians to understand this history from an objective viewpoint."


(Xinhua News Agency August 16, 2005)

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