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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 January 2006, 06:02 GMT
Japan FM backs down over shrine
The Yasukuni Shrine
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has visited the shrine several times
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso has backtracked on his controversial call for the emperor to visit a war shrine despised by China and South Korea.

Mr Aso said the visit was impossible "under the current situation", but he hoped it would happen in the future.

The Yasukuni shrine, which honours 2.5m war dead, has been avoided by Japanese emperors ever since 14 top World War II criminals were enshrined there in 1978.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits have strained ties with China.

China cancelled a bilateral summit last month over the issue.

Visit 'desirable'

Mr Aso is seen as a contender to succeed Mr Koizumi when his term ends.

On Saturday he suggested Emperor Akihito should visit the Tokyo shrine because those who died in wars did so in honour of their emperor.

He had said: "From the viewpoint of the spirits of the war dead, they hailed 'Banzai' ['long life'] for the emperor. None of them said, 'Long live the prime minister'.

"A visit by the emperor would be the best."

On Monday he qualified his comments.

"What I said was that I believed those who fell during the war would want that. I never said I wanted His Majesty to visit the shrine under the current circumstances," Mr Aso told reporters.

"It is desirable if His Majesty, the symbol of the Japanese public, could go, but there are problems that have to be resolved. There are various opinions. We must think seriously about this issue."

WWII's Emperor Hirohito, in whose name Japanese soldiers fought and died, visited the Yasukuni shrine until war criminals tried at an allied tribunal - including hanged Prime Minister Hideki Tojo - were quietly enshrined there in 1978.

His son Emperor Akihito has also refrained from praying there since he was enthroned in 1989, unlike Mr Koizumi who has prayed at Yasukuni every year since taking office in April 2001.

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