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Last Updated: Friday, 22 April, 2005, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
Japanese MPs visit war memorial
A group of Japanese lawmakers follow a Shinto priest as they pay homage at Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo
The visit is likely to further inflame passions in China
More than 160 Japanese lawmakers or their representatives have visited a controversial Japanese war shrine.

The visit comes amid mounting tensions with China, after weeks of protests over what China sees as Japan's failure to fully admit to wartime atrocities.

Cabinet member Taro Aso also took part in the spring-time ritual visit.

The Yasukuni shrine is dedicated to the souls of 2.5 million Japanese who died in past wars, including convicted World War II criminals.

China, and other countries invaded by Japan in the 1930s and 40s, have long objected to visits to the shrine by officials, including Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Peace prayers

YASUKUNI SHRINE
Yasukuni shrine (Chris Summers)
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

The visit comes as Mr Koizumi's aides are trying to set up a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of a summit in Indonesia to try to reduce tensions between the two countries.

Tensions began to mount two weeks ago, when Tokyo approved a set of controversial history textbooks which critics say do not acknowledge the extent of Japanese wartime brutality.

A spokesman for the MPs said the trip was intended to honour the dead and pray for peace, not to anger China.

"I think it is natural for Japan and individual citizens to pay respect to the souls and spirits of those who died," Takao Fujii, vice chairman of the group and a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), told correspondents.

"I think it's unfortunate that such issues are not understood by neighbouring countries such as China and South Korea," he said.

All but one of the MPs and their representatives are members of Mr Koizumi's ruling party.

Mr Koizumi has been making annual visits to the Yasukuni shrine since taking office in 2001, although he has not visited yet this year.


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