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Japanese high court to rule on PM's shrine visits
Updated: 2005-09-29 11:22

A Japanese high court was to rule Thursday on the constitutionality of one of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to a Tokyo war shrine denounced by Japan's neighbors as glorifying militarism.

The Tokyo High Court is considering an appeal by plaintiffs whose suit demanding compensation for anguish caused by Koizumi's 2001 visit to Yasukuni shrine _ his first as prime minister _ was rejected by a lower court in November 2004.

In the previous ruling, the Chiba District Court near Tokyo threw out the 63 plaintiffs' call for a total 630 million yen (US$5.8 million; euro4.82 million) in damages, but did not rule on the constitutionality of the visits.

The high court decision comes amid intense media speculation about whether Koizumi will make another visit to Yasukuni, which enshrines Japan's 2.5 million war dead, including executed war criminals from World War II.

Koizumi argues that he has made the visits _ four since taking office in 2001 _ as a way of honoring those who lost their lives in Japan's wars, and to pray for peace. His last visit was January 2004, and some suspect he will visit again before the end of the year.

Worshipping there also serves a political purpose by satisfying the demands of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's right-wing and an influential lobbying group made up of war veterans and the families of the war dead.

The visits, however, have enraged Japanese neighbors and contributed to deteriorating relations with South Korea and China, which bore the brunt of Tokyo's aggressive conquest of East Asia in the first half of the 20th century.

Critics say that Yasukuni, which considers fallen soldiers to be deities, glorifies Japan's past militarism, and Koizumi's worshipping there gives that view an official stamp of approval.

Shrine opponents also say the visits violate the constitutional separation of state and religion. Yasukuni belongs to Japan's native Shinto religion, which holds the emperor as its head priest.

Koizumi's visits have prompted a series of lawsuits. Fukuoka District Court in April 2004 ruled the 2001 visit violated the constitution. The ruling, however, does not have the power to prevent further visits.

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