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Tuesday, 15 August, 2000, 10:22 GMT 11:22 UK
War memorial divides Japan
Japanese war veterans in navy uniforms
Japanese war veterans visit the Yasakuni shrine every year
By Charles Scanlon in Tokyo

Senior Japanese politicians have been paying their respects to the country's war dead at a controversial shrine in central Tokyo.

Yasakuni shrine is seen by Japan's Asian neighbours as a symbol of its militarism.

War criminals are among the 2.5 million war dead honoured here.

Thousands of elderly soldiers, some clad in their old war-time uniforms, gathered at the shrine to mark the 55th anniversary of Japan's surrender at the end of World War II.

Emperor worship

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori opted not to visit the shrine this year, although he did so before being appointed prime minister.

Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshiro Mori
Prime Minister Mori kept off the controversial shrine
Instead, Mr Mori attended an official remembrance ceremony at a nearby sports hall.

He has already come under attack at home and abroad for comments that seem to express nostalgia for Japan's war-time political system based on emperor worship.

The right-wing mayor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, and more than half of the cabinet came to pay their respects.

There were also gangs of younger ultra-nationalists, some in paramilitary uniforms. They come each year to call for a revival of Japan's martial spirit.

Prime Minister Mori has acknowledged that the war caused great suffering, particularly to Japan's Asian neighbours, and he expressed deep regret and sorrow.

But this is a formula often used by Japanese leaders and has been criticised by China and North Korea as falling short of a full apology.

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