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Aso's offering to Yasukuni draws rebuke

JAPANESE Prime Minister Taro Aso has sent an offering to Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine, a spokeswoman for the shrine, seen by many as a symbol of Japan's past militarism, said yesterday.

News of the offering - a US$500 potted tree with a sign showing Aso's name and title as the premier - comes a week ahead of the prime minister's two-day trip to Beijing where he is expected to meet Chinese leaders.

"I thanked and paid homage to those who sacrificed their life for the country," Aso was quoted by Kyodo news agency as telling reporters when asked about the offering.

Japan's relations with China and other Asian nations chilled in former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's 2001-2006 time in office, in part because of his repeated visits to the shrine where World War II war criminals are honored along with the nation's war dead.

Ties improved after Koizumi left office, with the two subsequent prime ministers staying away from Yasukuni.

Japan's top government spokesman, Takeo Kawamura, told a news conference the premier's offering, which Kawamura believed was paid with Aso's own money, was unlikely to jeopardize next week's Japan-China summit.

But Aso's move has already prompted some criticism.

"From the perspective of setting up a correct historical view, it is very regrettable that Prime Minister Taro Aso made an offering at the Yasukuni Shrine, which beautifies (Japan's) past invasions and houses war criminals," Yonhap news agency reported South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young as saying in a statement.

Aso made his offering during Yasukuni's three-day spring festival, but the shrine spokeswoman could not say whether the premier himself had visited the shrine.

Aso, an outspoken nationalist and a Catholic, has sidestepped questions on whether he would visit Yasukuni as prime minister.


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