Lawsuits Filed Against Japan PM for Shrine Visit

Hundreds of Japanese filed lawsuits on Thursday against Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi over a controversial visit to a shrine for the war dead, saying it violated the constitution, media and court officials said.

The lawsuits argue that Koizumi's August visit violated the constitutional separation of the church and state, Kyodo said.

Koizumi sparked fury at home and abroad when he visited Yasukuni Shrine, which honours convicted war criminals along with nearly 2.5 million of Japan's war dead since the 19th century.

A group of about 640 people filed a suit against Koizumi and the government at the Osaka District Court in western Japan, demanding a ruling that Koizumi's visit to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine in August was unconstitutional, Kyodo news agency said.

The plaintiffs are seeking 10,000 yen ($82) each in compensation for psychological pain they say they experienced from the visit, Kyodo said. An Osaka court spokesman said it had received such a suit but declined to comment further.

A spokesman at Matsuyama District Court, also in western Japan, said a similar lawsuit had been filed there. Kyodo said 65 people had filed that suit. The visit drew fire from Japan's Asian neighbours, particularly China and South Korea, straining diplomatic ties with the former victims of Japanese wartime aggression.

The Osaka suit argues that Koizumi paid homage at the shrine in an official capacity because he used a government car and signed his official title in the visitors' book, it said.

Koizumi has declined to clarify whether the visit was official or private, merely saying he paid homage as "Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi" and that he used his own money to pay for a floral offering sent in his name.

"Yasukuni Shrine is a symbol of the imperial system and militarism," Kyodo quoted the lawsuit as saying. "Paying tribute at the shrine violates Article 20 of the Constitution, while showing respect to the Class-A war criminals honoured there."

Article 20 guarantees freedom of religion and the separation of church and state.

Asked about the lawsuit, top government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda said he did not think Koizumi's visit violated the constitution.

"Aren't these people intruding on Junichiro Koizumi's freedom of religion?" he said at a news conference.

People's Daily Online ---