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Japan's FM Backtracks on Call for Emperor to Visit Shrine
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Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Aso in Tokyo backtracked on his earlier remark urging the country's emperor to visit the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine on Tuesday, saying he was not suggesting the emperor should visit the site in this day and age.

"I made the remark from the standpoint of the spirits of the war dead enshrined (at Yasukuni) because they died for the emperor. I never said that (I wanted) the emperor to make the shrine visit in the current situation," Aso said at a news conference.

The minister said earlier it would be "best" if the emperor visited the Yasukuni Shrine, where 14 top war criminals were honored, rather than any other of Japan's leaders.

"From the viewpoint of the spirits of the war dead, they hailed 'Banzai' (long live) for the emperor -- none of them said long live the prime minister. A visit by the emperor would be the best," Aso said on Saturday in a speech.

His remarks immediately drew criticism from home and neighboring countries.

Aso "ignored the constitutional principle of separation of politics and religion, as well as the severe consequences caused by the Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni Shrine," Mizuho Fukushima, the opposition Social Democratic Party leader said on Sunday.

On Monday, South Korea's foreign ministry expressed "deep regret" over Aso's remarks. "We urge the Japanese foreign minister to immediately withdraw the remark that shuns neighboring nations," the ministry said in a statement,

The statement also said "these remarks are based on a misguided recognition of history that whitewashes Japan's militarist past".

The Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to the Shinto shrine have upset deeply many Asian people who suffered at the hands of the aggressive Japanese army before and during WWII.

"The 14 top war criminals are major symbols of Japanese militarism as well as Japanese fascism," said Wu Jianmin, president of China Foreign Affairs University, in a recent symposium on China-Japan relations.

The Japanese leaders' visit to the Shrine is a serious political issue, which shows that they have not acquired a correct attitude towards Japan's war history.

Late Emperor Hirohito stopped visiting the Yasukuni Shrine after it enshrined top war criminals in 1978, and the present emperor, Akihito, has never visited the site.
(Xinhua News Agency Febuary 1, 2006)

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