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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 October 2005, 05:14 GMT 06:14 UK
Japanese MPs fuel war shrine row
Shinto priest leads MPs after visit to shrine
The MPs are regular visitors at spring and autumn festivals
Nearly 200 members of the Japanese parliament have visited a controversial war shrine, a day after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi went there.

The Yasukuni war shrine is seen by Japan's neighbours as a symbol of the country's World War II militarism.

The MPs, who include senior members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, visit the shrine regularly.

This time the group was larger than the one that visited a year ago, but no cabinet ministers chose to attend.

China and South Korea have voiced their anger at Mr Koizumi's visit, which they said would further strain relations.

Relations 'damaged'

Yasukuni honours Japan's 2.5 million war dead, including 14 convicted as criminals by a 1948 war tribunal.

Yasukuni shrine (archive picture)
Built in 1869 to honour victims of the Boshin Civil War
Now venerates the souls of 2.5m of Japan's war dead
Those enshrined include 14 Class A war criminals

A meeting between the Chinese and Japanese foreign ministers to discuss a possible summit now appears to be in doubt.

China's Li Zhaoxing said the shrine visit had "severely damaged" relations between the two countries.

"The Chinese government and Chinese people express strong anger," he said in a statement on the ministry's website.

But his Japanese counterpart, Nobutaka Machimura, denied that his visit to China had been cancelled and said it was now more important than ever for the countries to talk.

The BBC's Chris Hogg in Tokyo says Mr Machimura is trying his best to appear positive about the fallout from Mr Koizumi's visit.

A South Korean spokesman said on Monday that President Roh Moo-hyun was unlikely to meet Mr Koizumi for a summit later in the year.

'Private citizen'

Two weeks ago, a court in Osaka ruled that Mr Koizumi's visits to the shine violate the constitution, because they contravene the separation of state and religion.

But Mr Koizumi insisted he was going as a private citizen and only wanted to honour the millions of Japanese killed in the war and pray for peace.

The Japanese prime minister had previously visited the shrine four times since taking office in 2001.

He was last seen there in January 2004, but after his recent re-election many were expecting a new visit.

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