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 Tuesday, 14 January, 2003, 11:25 GMT
Anger at Japan PM's shrine visit
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (left) follows a Shinto priest as the prime minister visits Yasukuni shrine, 14 Jan 2003
Mr Koizumi says his visit was to promote peace
China and South Korea have reacted angrily after the Japanese Prime Minister visited a controversial war shrine that honours the country's war dead.

We feel anger and disappointment about the visit to Yasukuni Shrine

South Korean foreign ministry
Junichiro Koizumi visited Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine on Tuesday for the third consecutive year.

China said the visit could "seriously damage" relations with Japan.

The shrine is dedicated to Japan's 2.5 million war dead, including wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, who was hanged for war crimes in 1948.

Just hours after Mr Koizumi's visit, China's foreign ministry summoned Japan's ambassador in Beijing and issued an angry protest.

Yasukuni Shrine, Tokyo
Fourteen war criminals are among those honoured
"The Chinese Government and people express strong dissatisfaction and indignation," Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue told reporters.

"It has also hurt the feelings of Asian victims, including Chinese," she said, referring to the tens of millions of Chinese killed during the 1937-45 war with Japan.

South Korea expressed "deep regret" at Mr Koizumi's visit.

"We feel anger and disappointment about the visit to Yasukuni Shrine," its foreign ministry said in a statement.

Mr Koizumi said he went to the shrine "to meditate on peace with a clear mind and [Japan] never again causing a war".

His latest visit comes at a sensitive time for regional relations, as Japan seeks to dissuade North Korea from pursuing a nuclear programme.

Japanese media said Mr Koizumi spent just one minute at the shrine.

Painful past

The Japanese prime minister sparked particular outrage from his Asian neighbours in 2001 when he visited the shrine in August, two days before the anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II.

Last year, hoping to lessen the controversy, he made an unannounced visit in April. But he was again roundly criticised as having renewed painful memories of Japan's wartime conquest of its Asian neighbours.

Last October, the Chinese President, Jiang Zemin, forcefully warned Mr Koizumi never to visit the shrine again.

Mr Koizumi may have timed his latest visit to take place before a new South Korean president takes office. President-elect Roh Moo-hyun is to be inaugurated in February, and Mr Koizumi is considering attending the ceremony.

Mr Koizumi has defended his visits to the Yasukuni shrine, saying they are not meant to glorify Japan's wartime role.

"As I have said before, I want it to be understood that there is no change to our close relations with China and South Korea," he said on Tuesday.

Japan's reluctance to apologise for its wartime treatment of its neighbours continues to stand in the way of warmer regional relations.

  The BBC's Charles Scanlon
"It's becoming an annual ritual for the Japanese Prime Minister"
See also:

14 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
24 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
23 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
22 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
15 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
08 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
13 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
13 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
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