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Monday, 14 May, 2001, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Koizumi courts shrine controversy
Japanese PM, Junichiro Koizumi
Mr Koizumi will go to the shrine in an official capacity
By Charles Scanlon in Tokyo

The Japanese prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, has confirmed he will visit a controversial war shrine later this year in a move likely to anger Japan's Asian neighbours.

Mr Koizumi told Parliament he did not understand why the visit this August should be dropped just because of criticism from abroad.

Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo
Yasukuni shrine is seen as a monument to militarism
He also indicated he would go in his official capacity - the first Japanese Prime Minister to do so for more than 15 years.

Mr Koizumi has already raised concern in the region with calls for a revision of Japan's pacifist constitution, imposed after World War II.

Warnings

The new government came to office at a time of growing strain between Japan and its Asian neighbours.

Mr Koizumi's decision to visit the Yasukuni shrine, where Japanese war criminals are among those venerated, is likely to exacerbate tensions.

China has already warned against a visit to the shrine, which is seen in much of Asia as a symbol of Japanese militarism.

Anti-Japan rally in Seoul
Japanese history textbooks provoked outrage
Both China and South Korea are worried by what they see as rising nationalist sentiment in Japan.

Both have complained about new history text books which they say gloss over Japan's wartime aggression.

Foreign policy issues in Japan, however, have been overshadowed by a bitter dispute between bureaucrats and the newly appointed foreign minister, Makiko Tanaka.

Dispute

Mrs Tanaka said in Parliament that officials had tried to bully and intimidate her.

That followed an onslaught last week in which she ordered a freeze on all appointments and promised to punish those responsible for a recent corruption scandal.

Opinion polls show overwhelming public support for the new administration.

In one poll Mr Koizumi received an approval rating of more than 90%.

That could explain why the new team feels confident enough to stand up to the bureaucrats as well as Japan's neighbours.

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See also:

17 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Row over Japan war shrine
24 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Koizumi hails 'peaceful revolution'
24 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Profile: Junichiro Koizumi
24 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Asian fears over new Japanese leader
09 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Court battle over Japan school books
05 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japanese history gets rewrite
03 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan textbook angers neighbours
29 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan overturns sex slave ruling
14 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan's controversial war shrine
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