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Former Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Koichi Kato, an ally of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, urged Koizumi to reconsider his pledge to visit Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine on the Aug. 15 anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II.

Speaking at Rikkyo University in Tokyo on Saturday, Kato said a visit by the prime minister would create a “very difficult matter for Japanese diplomacy” and urged Koizumi to “cautiously rethink” it.

Asian countries invaded by Japanese troops before and during World War II have criticized Koizumi for pledging to visit the Shinto shrine, which honors 2.5 million Japanese who have died in wars since the mid-19th century. Seven hanged war criminals are also enshrined, with wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo among them.

Koizumi initially said he would make an official visit to the memorial, but recently said he will worship at the shrine “as an individual,” without clarifying whether the visit will be made in his official capacity as prime minister or as a private citizen. Kato said it is “impossible” for the prime minister to make a visit as an individual citizen.

He said ending the controversy over visits to the shrine by government leaders would require separation of Class-A war criminals from those honored.

In a separate meeting in Tokyo, Kato said the Koizumi administration is “the last remaining card” for the LDP-led government. “(If) his reforms are left unfinished or the public abandons him saying, ‘It was a failure after all,’ the LDP faces its end,” Kato said.

The former LDP secretary general also said the huge popularity of the Koizumi Cabinet carries with it the risk that the public could lose confidence in it suddenly.

“The fact that everyone supports Prime Minister Koizumi means the popularity could fade instantly if the public one day thinks that he does not live up to its expectations,” Kato said. The Koizumi Cabinet received a resounding 85.4 percent support rate in a Kyodo News opinion poll released in late May.

At the university, Kato also criticized Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka for reportedly expressing concerns about U.S. missile defense plans, contravening the Japanese government’s position of having understanding for the scheme.

“The issue falls into a category of things about which personal views should not be stated,” he said. “I wonder if she airs her opinions too freely and uninhibitedly.”

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