Seventy-nine lawmakers, including Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe, visited Yasukuni Shrine on Tuesday for its annual fall festival.

No members of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Cabinet were among them.

The nonpartisan group included former Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata, now a member of the Democratic Party of Japan. In addition, 81 representatives of other lawmakers visited the shrine.

“I often visit the shrine when I’m off,” Takebe told reporters afterward. “It is my natural desire to pay homage at the shrine.”

Koizumi has visited the war-related shrine once a year since taking office in April 2001, angering China and other Asian countries.

China has demanded that Koizumi refrain from visiting the shrine, which honors several class-A World War II criminals among the nation’s war dead, as memories of Japanese military aggression are still fresh there.

Reciprocal visits by the leaders of China and Japan have been suspended due to the row over Koizumi’s repeated visits to the shrine.

Commenting on the suspension, Takebe said, “There can be obstacles in any of Japan’s bilateral relations.”

He indicated Koizumi does not need to stop his visits to Yasukuni as a result of foreign demands, and that Japan needs to promote efforts to gain understanding from China. Koizumi indicated Monday he will not halt his controversial visits to Yasukuni.

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