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Friday, May 29, 1998 Published at 00:28 GMT 01:28 UK


Akihito closes state visit

Akihito: Expressed 'deep pain' over Second World War

Emperor Akihito of Japan is ending his four-day state visit to the UK which has been dogged by controversy and bitter memories of the Second World War.

At least one prominent member of the British government has responded to protests by former prisoners-of-war by recognising that the issue of a more complete apology and compensation from Japan has some legitimacy.

The Culture Secretary Chris Smith, speaking on BBC television, said the issue of compensation to the country's war prisoners held by Japan should be raised.

He said: "If the occasion presents itself to raise it (the issue of compensation), yes, I think it can be raised."

The government has always said the issue was closed by a 1951 treaty, under which British PoWs were given roughly £76 compensation each by the Japan.

The Foreign Office minister Derek Fatchett told the Commons last month that preliminary legal advice to the government was that the treaty could not be reopened so many years later.

The Emperor, his wife and their entourage have been followed throughout their visit by a small but vocal group of former prisoners of war who are demanding an official apology and compensation for the way they were treated during the war.

The Emperor has expressed his "deep pain" over the Second World War but the Japanese constitution prevents him from giving a formal apology to the UK.

He begins his final day of the visit by leaving Buckingham Palace where he has been staying with the Queen, but is staying in the UK for a few more days for private engagements.

Friday includes a visit to the British Red Cross Society, followed by a cocktail reception given by the Japan Society.

Later the Emperor, who has qualifications as a marine biologist, will visit the Zoological Society, home of London Zoo, in Regent's Park.

Protests in Emperor's wake

[ image: Protesters: Followed the Japanese party all week]
Protesters: Followed the Japanese party all week
The week began when former PoWs symbolically turned their backs on Emperor Akihito as he was taken by the Queen along The Mall in London to Buckingham Palace.

That demonstration led to smaller events in Wales and a protest by 50 veterans at Downing Street on Thursday when the Japanese party met Prime Minister Tony Blair for lunch.

Blair to meet PoWs

Despite having received no apology, the prisoners of war are claiming a smaller victory after the prime minister agreed to meet them.

[ image: Blair: Will meet POWs over compensation]
Blair: Will meet POWs over compensation
They want the government to formally back the campaign for an apology and compensation, saying that Mr Blair has done little during the state visit to help them.

Mr Blair's offer to meet the veterans in the coming weeks came after they handed in a letter of protest at Downing Street, criticising the way the government has handled the issue.

Mr Blair's official spokesman said the prime minister had been unable to meet the veterans prior to the visit because of his commitment to the Northern Ireland referendum.

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