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Sunday, August 15, 1999 Published at 12:51 GMT 13:51 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Reprise for Japan's anthem

The rising sun flag has also been given legal status

The Japanese national anthem has been played at an official ceremony honouring the country's war dead for the first time since the end of World War II.

It follows the Japanese Parliament's decision to pass a new law giving the anthem, Kimigayo, and the Rising Sun flag legal status as the country's symbols.

The BBC's Juliet Hindell reports: "Until this year it has not been included in the ceremony"
The anthem has not been played during the ceremony until now because of concerns about its association with Japan's militaristic past.

Although they are often seen and heard at official occasions, the decision to give the anthem, which honours the emperor, and the Rising Sun flag legal status provoked controversy in Japan.

[ image: War-bereaved pray at the Yasukuni shrine]
War-bereaved pray at the Yasukuni shrine
The ceremony honouring the war dead was attended by Emperor Akihito, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and 7,000 relatives of those who died in the war.

Earlier seven cabinet ministers visited Tokyo's controversial Yasukuni shrine where 2.4 million people who have died in wars since 1853, including seven war criminals, are remembered.

Visits create diplomatic headache

The politicians were joined by thousands of people, including an extremist right-wing group who unfurled the rising sun flag and sang the national anthem in front of the shrine.

Visits by cabinet ministers and lawmakers to Yasukuni are a perennial diplomatic problem for Japan.

Nations such as China say visits by politicians to the shrine are an insult to those who suffered from Japanese militarism during World War II.

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