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Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi indicated his firm determination Sunday to continue his controversial annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine.

He said during a series of TV appearances ahead of the Sept. 11 general election that there should be no outside influence on a matter involving his personal desire to pay tribute to the war dead.

Koizumi, who is also president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, was referring to criticism by China and South Korea of his annual visits to the Tokyo shrine, which honors Class-A war criminals alongside the war dead.

Koizumi has yet to visit the shrine this year, and has only said he will make an “appropriate” decision on the timing.

Turning to the question of whether to extend the Self-Defense Forces’ presence in Iraq, Koizumi said he will make a judgment as close to the Dec. 14 end of the current mission as possible.

About 500 ground troops are engaged in reconstruction work in Samawah, southern Iraq. The mission technically began in December 2003. The first full batch of SDF troops arrived in early 2004.

Asked for his thoughts on how voters are responding to the current election campaign, Koizumi said he feels an increasing number of voters favor privatization of postal services, the centerpiece of his reform agenda.

Speech-noise scuffle

KOBE (Kyodo) A 54-year-old man in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, was arrested Sunday morning on suspicion of attacking a man as a political candidate was preparing to give a campaign speech, police said.

The suspect was identified as Hiroo Yoshikawa. He allegedly approached the candidate as he was preparing to speak on a street at around 10:05 a.m. to complain about the noise. A 61-year-old supporter of the candidate tried to stop him, and Yoshikawa grabbed the front of the man’s shirt, according to police.

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