The government did not violate the Constitution’s separation of religion and state by discussing the enshrinement of Class-A war criminals at Yasukuni Shrine with shrine officials, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday.

According to documents released Wednesday by the National Diet Library, the Shinto shrine, which honors 2.5 million war dead, agreed to enshrine Class-A war criminals in discussions with the government in 1969, nine years before actually doing so.

“I don’t think it’s a problem,” Abe told reporters Thursday. “It was the shrine that enshrined them. The former health ministry provided information only because it was asked to do so.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki concurred in a separate statement Thursday.

“The final decision was made by the shrine, and it is my understanding that the ministry did not force it to decide,” Shiozaki told a news conference.

The controversial enshrinement of Class-A war criminals at Yasukuni has enraged people across Asia, especially in China and South Korea, which suffered deeply from Japan’s conquest and military aggression.

The news also cast a shadow over Japan’s relations with China ahead of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to Tokyo set for April 11 to 13.

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