Page last updated at 12:31 GMT, Friday, 28 March 2008

Judges dismiss Japan WWII libel

Novelist Kenzaburo Oe, 28/03
Mr Oe was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1994

Japanese judges have thrown out a libel case against Nobel prize-winning author Kenzaburo Oe, who was accused of lying about the country's war time past.

Mr Oe's book Okinawa Notes claims that the Japanese military ordered hundreds of civilians to commit suicide as US troops advanced during World War II.

A retired army officer and another man said the military never gave the order, but the court dismissed their claim.

Analysts say the ruling vindicates Mr Oe's views on Okinawa's history.

'Deeply involved'

The legal battle pitted two retired officers - including one who thought he recognised himself in the book - against Japan's best-known living author.

The claimants had wanted the book banned and claimed 20m yen ($200,000; 100,000) in compensation.

Judge Toshimasa Fukami did not rule on whether the military ordered the mass suicides, but he concluded: "The former Imperial Japanese Army was deeply involved in the mass suicides."

The ruling gives legal weight to the notion that the Japanese army coerced Okinawans into killing themselves when it became evident that the Japan's most southern outposts were about to fall to American troops.

The judge noted that Japanese officers handed grenades to the locals, and that the suicides - possibly as many as 1,000 - occurred only on islands where army posts were located.

Right-wing nationalists have long been locked in an ideological battle with left-wing intellectuals like Mr Oe, whom they see as unpatriotic muckrakers.

The government last year sought to tone down references to mass suicides in history textbooks - although the move was rescinded after tens of thousands of Okinawans took to the streets to protest.

Mr Oe won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994.

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