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Japanese lawmakers visit war shrine

world Updated: Oct 17, 2008 09:10 IST
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Dozens of Japanese politicians visited Tokyo's controversial Yasukuni shrine to war dead on Friday, but new Prime Minister and past supporter Taro Aso stayed away, lawmakers' offices said.

Forty-eight parliamentarians -- 21 upper house members and 27 lower house politicians -- visited the Yasukuni shrine on the first day of its four-day annual autumn festival.

No cabinet members were seen at the shrine, which honours 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including 14 top war criminals from World War II. Other Asian countries view the shrine as a symbol of Japan's wartime aggression.

Aso, who took office in late September, has not said clearly whether he would visit the Shinto shrine.

"He probably makes decisions by looking at his schedule of public duties," lawmaker Yoshinobu Shimamura said at the shrine, as quoted by Jiji Press.

He said he "frankly hopes" Aso will visit the Yasukuni shrine.

Former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi prayed once a year at the shrine during his 2001-2006 tenure, enraging China and South Korea which refused any summits with him.

Aso's predecessor Yasuo Fukuda advocated reconciliation with other Asian countries and openly opposed visits to the shrine by political leaders.

Aso has gone to the Yasukuni shrine in the past and has caused controversy for praising aspects of Japan's past imperialism.

But Aso, a Christian, unveiled a proposal in 2006 for the government to take over the shrine and strip it of its religious affiliation in the hope of ending the controversy.