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Last Updated: Friday, 28 April 2006, 09:29 GMT 10:29 UK
Japan backs 'patriotic teaching'
Japanese schoolboys
Teachers should foster 'love of the nation and homeland'
Japan's Cabinet has approved a bill that will encourage teachers to instil patriotism and respect for tradition in their students.

The bill, which will now be submitted to parliament, would change the country's education law for the first time since its enactment in 1947.

Opponents fear the changes could engender dangerous nationalism.

Meanwhile, a number of ruling party MPs have visited a controversial war shrine despite Chinese and Korean protests.

The education bill is likely to further inflame tensions between Japan and its neighbours, who believe the leadership of their wartime enemy is shifting to the right.

The BBC's Tokyo correspondent Chris Hogg says the bill has already sparked fierce debate within Japan.

It took more than 70 meetings between Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner, the New Komeito party, to thrash out a definition of patriotism for inclusion in the bill.

The bill would require teachers to foster "love of the nation and homeland and respect for its tradition and culture".

Yasukuni shrine (Chris Summers)
Visits to the Yasukuni war shrine court controversy

Conservative groups have long argued for a revision of the current law, saying pupils should learn national pride as Japan assumes a more active diplomatic and military role on the international stage.

Opponents fear the changes might foster a revival of militarism and anger neighbours China and South Korea.

"This revision would turn back the clock to the pre-war era... It is a serious violation of freedom of thought," said Communist Party lawmaker Ikuko Ishii.

The Japan Teachers Union has also submitted a petition signed by 610,000 teachers complaining of a lack of transparency during discussions.

The bill will now be debated by parliament but it is not clear whether there is enough time for it to be passed before both houses adjourn on 18 June.

In a move which is likely to further anger Japan's neighbours, 21 LDP lawmakers on Friday visited Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine which commemorates Japanese war dead, among them convicted criminals from World War II.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, head of the LDP, has himself repeatedly prayed at the shrine.

Japan's neighbours have boycotted summits in protest at his visits, which they regard as evidence Japan has not fully repented for its actions during the war.

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