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|Tuesday, July 31, 2001, updated at 07:53(GMT+8)|
Koizumi Softens Stance over Shrine VisitJapanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Monday hinted that he may be seeking a way out of a diplomatic bind over a planned visit to a Shinto shrine for war dead that has also put him at odds with key political allies.
Koizumi seemed to soften his stance on a planned visit to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine on August 15, anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War Two, saying that he would consult with his coalition partners before going ahead.
"My basic principle is that I want to make the visit. But I will listen to what others (coalition parties) have to say," Koizumi said a day after his three-way ruling coalition scored a solid victory in Japan's Upper House elections.
Asked whether if there was any chance that he would change his mind, he only said: "I want to decide upon mature consideration."
Koizumi, known for his nationalist tilt, has angered Asian neighbours including China and South Korea -- both victims of Japan's military aggression before and during World War Two -- after repeatedly pledging to pay homage at the Shinto shrine.
Besides being the anniversary of Japan's surrender, August 15 is also South Korea's Liberation Day, celebrated to mark the end of Japan's 35-year occupation of the Korean peninsula.
The shrine is dedicated to the 2.5 million Japanese killed in wars since the 19th century but also enshrines wartime prime minister General Hideki Tojo and other military leaders convicted and hanged as war criminals for their roles in Japan's invasion of much of Asia in the 1930s and 1940s.
Even his outspoken foreign minister, Makiko Tanaka, and his biggest coalition partner have urged him to reconsider the visit.
Tanaka on Monday urged Koizumi to abandon the visit in a meeting on Sunday, Kyodo news agency said.
"He should not make the visit. There still is two weeks (before August 15) and I want the prime minister to go back to basics and think carefully," Kyodo quoted Tanaka as saying.
Takenori Kanzaki, leader of the Buddhist-backed New Komeito Party -- the number two party in Koizumi's coalition -- on Monday repeated his call for Koizumi to cancel the visit.
"It is undesirable for the prime minister to pay a visit to the shrine on August 15," Kanzaki told a news conference.
Koizumi has said the visit is not meant to justify or glorify Japan's deeds in World War Two and that he will try to win Seoul's and Beijing's understanding after the visit.
"Diplomatic relations with China and South Korea are very important," Koizumi said. "In Japan, we have our owns ways of paying respect (to the war dead). I want foreign countries to understand that."
But Koizumi's visit to Yasukuni may not win public support.
A survey conducted by Koizumi's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, carried by Kyodo on Friday, showed that only a third of the respondents supported his planned visit to Yasukuni Shrine.
The survey of 2,115 people found that 33.3 percent supported Koizumi's plan to visit the war shrine, with 11.7 percent of respondents voicing "strong support" and 21.6 percent saying they were "somewhat supportive."
Another 45.9 percent neither supported nor opposed it, Kyodo said.
The planned visit is not the only issue that is straining ties with Japan's neighbours.
South Korea, China and other Asian nations have also attacked Tokyo over a Japanese history textbook that critics say whitewashes Japanese wartime atrocities.
Japan angered Seoul and Beijing earlier this month when it rejected calls for major changes to the text, due to be used in Japanese junior high schools next year. Tokyo said it would make just two of 35 revisions Seoul had demanded.
In retaliation, South Korea said it would scale back cultural and military contacts with Japan and threatened to boycott educational exchanges.
Japan has said the textbook, approved by the Education Ministry in April, does not represent the government's official view of history. It has also said there would no be no further revisions.
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