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Taku Yamasaki, secretary general of the governing Liberal Democratic Party, said Sunday that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will definitely pay a visit to Yasukuni Shrine, where Class A war criminals are honored, despite strong opposition from neighboring Asian countries.

“I believe the visit to Yasukuni will certainly be made, and I think it should be done,” Yamasaki said during a Fuji Television talk show.

He added, however, “I believe (Koizumi) should make maximum efforts not to undermine relations with neighboring countries,” and did not rule out the possibility that Koizumi might visit the shrine on a day other than Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II, as the prime minister has repeatedly said he would.

“As for how it can be done, we will give consideration to other countries. I believe (Koizumi) will pay a visit in such a manner that it would not violate the Constitution,” which requires a separation of religion and state.

If Koizumi does choose to visit the Shinto shrine on Aug. 15, Yamasaki indicated that Koizumi could issue a statement in line with one issued by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama in 1995.

“So far (the government) has indicated its view on history by way of a comment by Mr. Murayama. I think there could also be a Koizumi comment,” Yamasaki said.

On Aug. 15, 1995, Murayama officially apologized for Japan’s past acts of aggression and colonialism against its Asian neighbors. That was the 50th anniversary of Japan’s surrender of World War II.

During the same television program, Tetsuzo Fuyushiba, secretary general of New Komeito, the LDP’s coalition ally, said: “A visit (to Yasukuni) by a prime minister would make us think that the prime minister is supporting a certain religious entity, and the nation would consequently see (Yasukuni) as a special entity.

“It would constitute exactly what Article 20 of the Constitution prohibits.”

New Komeito is backed by the Soka Gakkai, the nation’s largest lay Buddhist organization.

Article 20 states, “No religious organization shall receive any privileges from the state, nor exercise any political authority,” and “The state and its organs shall refrain from religious education or any other religious activity.”

Naoto Kan, secretary general of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, was also critical of the plan, and of Koizumi’s comment last month that “it is better to think of ways to maintain and develop relations after making the visit.”

“He is unqualified to be a person in charge of foreign policy if he believes it is sufficient to think what to do after each time various (problems) occur,” said Kan, who appeared on the same TV program.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe came to Koizumi’s defense during the program, however, saying: “A visit would not (be an attempt to) justify war. As for deteriorated relations (with China and South Korea), we have to dispel misunderstanding and earnestly make explanations to them.”

Yasukuni Shrine honors about 2.5 million Japanese who have died in wars since the mid-19th century, among them seven Class A war criminals tried and hanged after World War II, including Gen. Hideki Tojo, a wartime prime minister.

Koizumi has stated that he will pay a visit to the shrine Aug. 15 “with the feeling that we should never go to war again, and to console the souls of those who died after having no choice but to go to war.”

Koizumi would be the first Japanese prime minister in 16 years to visit the shrine on the Aug. 15 anniversary since then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone visited the shrine in 1986.

That visit generated massive protests from Asia, in part because he called the visit “official.”

Prime ministers since Nakasone have refrained from visiting the shrine Aug. 15, though Ryutaro Hashimoto visited the shrine on his birthday in July 1996, when he was prime minister.

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