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Japan lawmakers visit war shrine, PM Aso skips

DOZENS of Japanese lawmakers visited Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine to the war dead today, a day after Prime Minister Taro Aso was criticised by China and South Korea for having sent an offering to the shrine.

Official visits to the Yasukuni shrine, where Japanese wartime leaders are honoured along with the nation's war-dead, deeply upset Japan's neighbours who see it as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.

Aso and his cabinet ministers were not among the 87 lawmakers who visited the shrine during its three-day spring festival.

Japanese business daily Nikkei reported Aso has decided not to visit the shrine while he is in office. Aso, an outspoken nationalist and a Catholic, has sidestepped questions on whether he would visit Yasukuni as prime minister.

The 87 who went are members of a nationalist lawmakers' group that regularly visits the shrine.

Yoshinobu Shimamura, a ruling party politician who heads the group, said Aso's offering of a US$500 potted tree, called a "masakaki", was a positive move.

"I think he expressed his will through the offering of the 'masakaki', because he cannot attend due to his position. I think it's a good thing," Shinamura told a news conference.

Ties with China chilled during former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's term in office, in part due to his repeated visits to the shrine.

Koreans still chafe over Japan's brutal rule from 1910 to 1945, while China has bitter memories of Japan's invasion and occupation of parts of the country from 1931 to 1945.

Aso is set to visit China next week to meet his counterparts.


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