Marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi expressed regret Monday for Japan’s past deeds against its Asian neighbors and vowed to make sure they never happen again.

“Our country caused damage and pain to many countries, especially the people of Asia, during the war,” Koizumi said in a speech at the annual ceremony held at Nippon Budokan hall in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo. “I profoundly pray for the souls of the war dead and the victims of war both at home and abroad.”

The prime minister also pledged to make further efforts to boost friendly relationships with other nations and contribute to global peace and prosperity.

The day passed without Koizumi visiting war-related Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Class-A war criminals along with the war dead.

He has paid an annual visit to the shrine since becoming prime minister in April 2001, much to the ire of such countries as China and South Korea, but has not yet done so this year.

Koizumi’s remarks came as Japan’s ties with other parts of Asia, particularly China and South Korea, remain strained, partly due to his repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine and Japan’s authorization of revisionist history textbooks.

Meanwhile, in other parts of Asia, the day was commemorated with protests and ceremonies as countries looked back on a conflict that killed millions of people across the region.

In a separate statement Monday, Koizumi vowed not to allow “the lessons of the tragic war to fade away” and stressed the need to work with China, South Korea and other parts of Asia to maintain peace.

“I will face the past, correctly acknowledge history and hope to build future-oriented cooperative relationships with Asian nations based on trust and mutual understanding,” he said.

The statement, adopted by the Cabinet earlier in the day, was the first of its kind issued by a prime minister on the anniversary since 1995. That year, the 50th anniversary, Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama became the first Japanese top leader to apologize for the country’s past wrongdoings.

In his speech at the government-sponsored ceremony, Emperor Akihito expressed hope that the tragedies of the war are never repeated.

“Together with the people, I pay tribute to those who died in the disasters of war and hope for world peace and further development of our country,” the Emperor said.

About 6,300 people attended the ceremony, including 5,118 relatives of the war dead.

The ceremony is aimed at commemorating about 2.3 million military personnel and 800,000 civilians who died during the war.

“Each one of us will renew our determination to maintain the peace and freedom that you (the war dead) wished for more than anything,” said Takao Yorimitsu, 75, who made a speech on behalf of the relatives.

Yorimitsu, of the Kochi Prefectural Assembly, lost his father, Masayuki, in the war.

Reflecting the advanced age of the next of kin after 60 years, the majority of the participants were offspring of the dead.

It was the first time that none of the ceremony participants was a parent of a war victim, organizers said.

The oldest to take part in the event was Isamu Tanaka, 95, whose younger brother, Saburo, served as a medical soldier in Manchuria, while the youngest was 6-year-old Yuki Morisawa, whose great-grandfather died in the Philippines.

It is also the first time the speaker of the House of Representatives did not attend the annual ceremony. The post has been vacant since the chamber was dissolved for a general election last week.

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