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Last Updated: Monday, 3 April 2006, 08:33 GMT 09:33 UK
Japan shrine visits 'to continue'
By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Tokyo

Yasukuni shrine (Chris Summers)
A number of war criminals are enshrined at Yasukuni
The frontrunner to replace Japan's prime minister has suggested that he will visit the controversial Yasukuni war shrine if elected.

Shinzo Abe also rejected a Chinese offer to hold talks with current Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi if he stopped visiting the shrine.

Mr Koizumi has visited the shrine five times since he took office in 2001, provoking China and South Korea.

Among the 2.5 million dead commemorated are more than 1,000 war criminals.

They include 14 Class A criminals executed by the Allies after World War II.

Regional tensions

Mr Koizumi has visited the shrine every year since being elected.

The visits play well with the more right-wing elements of the electorate, but they anger Japan's neighbours, who regard them as evidence that the country has not fully repented for its actions during the war.

Japan's chief Cabinet Secretary, Mr Abe has been a strong supporter of Mr Koizumi's visits to the shrine.

Now he appears to have confirmed that if he is chosen to replace him as prime minister when Mr Koizumi steps down in September, he will also worship at the shrine.

When asked whether he would visit, he replied he would like to continue putting his hands together to pray for those who had died for the nation.

He also rejected an offer by the Chinese to resume summit meetings with the Japanese leadership if the visits were stopped.

"We cannot accept the Chinese position that the entire responsibility of the current difficulties that Japan and China face today falls on the Japanese leader," he said.

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