Japan opposition leader hits shrine visits

April 10, 2006 at 4:23 AM
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TOKYO, April 10 (UPI) -- The new leader of Japan's opposition has criticized Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for visiting a Shinto shrine that honors war criminals.

Ichiro Ozawa, the new leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, suggested Sunday that Japan's prime minister or emperor could visit Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine if the Japanese war leaders convicted by the Allies as Class-A war criminals were enshrined separately from it, Kyodo News reported Monday.

"Koizumi's (visits) are wrong. ... Yasukuni Shrine originally was not a place where people with the greatest responsibility for leading Japan into wars were honored," Ozawa said.

In response, Koizumi said Monday it was not possible for the government to ask the shrine to separate war criminals from other war dead honored at the shrine.

"It is not a matter for the government to say something," Koizumi told reporters at his official residence in Tokyo.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe cited the constitutional article guaranteeing freedom of religion to argue against Ozawa's suggestion.

"It is a decision to be made voluntarily by Yasukuni Shrine and a matter the government should not step into," Abe said.

Abe has insisted he will continue visiting the shrine if he becomes prime minister.

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