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Tetsuzo Fuyushiba, secretary general of the New Komeito party, a member of the ruling coalition, said Saturday he expects Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to cancel his plan to visit Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine on the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II on Wednesday.

In a telephone interview for a radio program, Fuyushiba said, “The prime minister will not visit the shrine. The secretaries general of the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Conservative Party — Taku Yamasaki and Takeshi Noda — share that view.”

The New Komeito and the NCP are part of the ruling coalition with Koizumi’s LDP.

Fuyushiba did not give a reason for his belief, but his comments are believed to have reflected discussions during a meeting between Yamasaki, Fuyushiba, Noda and Koizumi on Friday night. The three secretaries general urged the prime minister not to visit the Shinto shrine, but left the final decision in his hands.

Koizumi’s plan to visit the shrine has been strongly criticized by South Korea and China because Yasukuni honors 14 Class A war criminals as well as some 2.5 million Japanese killed in war.

The proposed visit has also met with divided opinions from lawmakers, with some pressuring the prime minister to stick to his word and others calling for him to cancel the visit.

New Komeito, which is backed by Japan’s largest lay Buddhist organization, Soka Gakkai, is among those most strongly opposed to the visit.

Fuyushiba said on the radio program that if Koizumi goes to the shrine on Wednesday, it will be a serious matter, but the party has not decided what it would do in such circumstances.

However, he said New Komeito will not withdraw from the coalition over the issue.

“If we leave the government, Japanese politics will descend into confusion. It would be better not to be emotional,” Fuyushiba said.

Koizumi said Friday that he will make a final decision early this week.

Concerns growing

A number of prefectural governors and municipal assemblies have expressed opposition or concern about Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s plan to visit Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine on the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II on Wednesday.

In response to demands from China and South Korea, which vehemently oppose Koizumi’s visit to the Shinto shrine, governors have urged the prime minister to exercise caution while local assemblies have adopted resolutions against the visit. Yasukuni enshrines 14 Class A war criminals along with some 2.5 million Japanese war dead.

As of Friday, 13 governors have commented on Koizumi’s Yasukuni visit, with at least four stating clear opposition to the visit. Municipal assemblies in Sapporo, Tokyo, Chiba, Kyoto and Kochi have also adopted resolutions against the prime minister’s plan to worship at the shrine.

Nagano Gov. Yasuo Tanaka told a press conference Friday that he is “clearly against” Koizumi’s plan to visit the shrine. Niigata Gov. Ikuo Hirayama on Wednesday urged Koizumi to cancel the visit, saying “It would be better for him not to go if he takes international affairs into account.”

Tottori Gov. Yoshihiro Katayama, who has been promoting exchanges among nations facing the Sea of Japan, said Monday, “If he visits the shrine only with the explanation he has made so far, Japan’s credibility in the eyes of neighboring states will be severely damaged and its national interests will suffer in turn,” Katayama said.

Koizumi has so far only said that he will try to mend ties with China and South Korea after making the visit.

Hirayama was critical of this policy. “Doesn’t it sound a bit nonsensical that he will offer an explanation after paying the visit?” Hirayama said.

Okayama Gov. Masahiro Ishii also underlined the need to gain neighboring countries’ understanding of the visit. “We have been conducting exchanges for friendship with China and South Korea. Internationalization efforts have spread from local governments,” he said.

Shizuoka Gov. Yoshinobu Ishikawa emphasized the importance of offering diplomatic explanations to Japan’s Asian neighbors on the issue but said neighboring countries’ intolerance toward Koizumi’s proposed visit could constitute foreign interference in domestic affairs.

Among the governors, only Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara was clearly in favor of Koizumi visiting Yasukuni, urging the prime minister to go ahead with his plan. “China has made a nonsense request about Yasukuni, but the prime minister has only to hold his head up high,” he said.

Among local assemblies, the Sapporo municipal assembly on Tuesday adopted a resolution opposed to Koizumi’s Yasukuni visit, saying an official visit is “completely different from mourning the war dead and against the principles of the Constitution concerning aspirations for peace and the separation of religion and state.”

Similar resolutions have been adopted by the cities of Musashino in Tokyo, Shiroi in Chiba and Muko in Kyoto as well as Kochi city.

Meanwhile, Akita Gov. Sukeshiro Terata suggested Koizumi should make a visit to the shrine on a day other than the anniversary, while Aichi Gov. Masaaki Kanda called for a national cemetery to be built that could replace Yasukuni Shrine as Japan’s war memorial.

Nagano’s Tanaka also said Koizumi should not visit the shrine as a public figure, but instead visit Chidorigafuchi graveyard in Tokyo which was built in 1959 with taxpayers’ money to mourn unknown victims of wars.

Koreans stage protest

A group of South Koreans staged a sit-in protest Saturday at a Tokyo shrine dedicated to Japan’s war dead, demanding that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi cancel a planned visit to the shrine.

The nine-member group, from a South Korean association of bereaved families of military personnel and civilian employees of the Japanese military who died during World War II, plan to stage a hunger strike and other protests at the Shinto shrine through Wednesday, the 56th anniversary of Japan’s surrender.

Before beginning the sit-in, the protesters visited the Yasukuni Shrine office to demand the removal from the shrine of the names of Koreans who died in the war.

However, a shrine official told them, “We have enshrined the souls of both Japanese and foreigners. We will not stop honoring souls that were once enshrined,” according to association members.

The protesters from the Association of Bereaved Families of Pacific War Victims also told the official that they refuse to accept Koizumi’s plan to visit the shrine.

The official said they will allow anybody who wants to worship to visit the shrine, the members said.

Association leader Kim Chong Dae, 64, whose father died during the war as a civilian employee of the Japanese military, said the enshrining of his father is against his wishes.

Kim said the remains of his father have not been recovered and his wages have not been paid.

He also said he believes that a new militarism is emerging in Japan in the background of Koizumi’s planned visit to the shrine.

More than 21,000 Koreans are reportedly honored at the shrine. The Korean Peninsula was under Japan’s colonial rule between 1910 and 1945.

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