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Thursday, 1 November, 2001, 08:15 GMT
Koizumi shrine visit sparks lawsuits
A group of plaintiffs arrives at the Osaka District Court in Osaka, western Japan
The plaintiffs want a ban on further visits
By the BBC's Charles Scanlon in Tokyo

Hundreds of people in Japan have filed civil lawsuits claiming that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi violated the constitution when he visited a war shrine earlier this year.

The Yasukuni Shrine
Yasukuni honours 2.5m war dead, including 14 war criminals
The plaintiffs in Osaka and other cities are demanding compensation and a ruling that would bar further visits to the controversial shrine.

In August Mr Koizumi paid his respects to Japan's war dead at the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, sparking an angry reaction from Korea and China.

They saw the gesture as a sign of nationalistic defiance and a rejection of Japan's earlier apologies for its wartime aggression.

'Extreme anger'

Members of pacifist groups and ethnic Koreans were among the more than 700 people who filed lawsuits at courts in western Japan on Thursday. They said Mr Koizumi had violated the constitutional separation between state and religion when he visited the shrine.

Junichiro Koizumi on a visit to South Korea
Koizumi has since visited South Korea and China
They described Yasukuni shrine as a symbol of Japanese imperialism and militarism - and said Mr Koizumi had effectively paid his respects to convicted war criminals who are among those honoured.

"As a family member who lost a father in the war, I cannot tolerate the prime minister's visit to the shrine," Ryuken Sugahara, a Buddhist monk involved in the suit, told a news conference.

"I view the prime minister's visit with extreme anger and disappointment."

The plaintiffs are demanding token compensation of about $83 (10,000 yen) each - ostensibly for the psychological pain they suffered.

Last month Mr Koizumi went to Beijing and Seoul to try to repair the damage. He insists he was merely paying his respects to the war dead and praying for future peace.

Mr Koizumi said he thought the lawsuits were "nonsense". It is unclear whether he intends to visit the shrine again next year.

The BBC's Charles Scanlon
"The plaintiffs are demanding token compensation... for the psychological pain"
See also:

15 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan apologises to South Korea
08 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Koizumi apologises to China
13 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Koizumi's balancing act
13 Aug 01 | Media reports
Japanese premier's shrine statement
13 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Anger over Japan PM's shrine visit
01 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japanese history angers Koreans
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