• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to honor postwar Japanese prisoners involved in building what is now a reputed theater in Uzbekistan during a visit to the country later this month, diplomatic sources from two nations said.

With this year marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the sources said Abe’s visit to Uzbekistan as part of a five-nation tour of Central Asia will include a welcome event at the Alisher Navoi Opera and Ballet Theatre in the capital Tashkent.

The theater has been under renovation for two years, but efforts are underway to speed up the work so Abe can attend the opening of the refurbished venue. A concert and other events are being planned, the sources said.

Before the renovation work, a sign was set up outside the theater in Uzbek and Japanese reading that several hundred Japanese nationals, who were taken there from the Far East between 1945 and 1946, contributed to its construction.

Nobuhiko Shima, chairman of the Japan-Uzbekistan Association, has requested that Abe pay tribute to the Japanese prisoners at the theater, the sources said.

A similar request to Abe is also expected to come soon from Hideyuki Aizawa, chairman of an association tasked with sharing the experiences of former Japanese detainees, mainly in Siberia.

Abe’s itinerary is also likely to include a visit to a cemetery in Tashkent for the prisoners, one of the sources said.

The Japanese government is making arrangements for Abe to visit Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan from Oct. 22 to 28, with his Uzbekistan trip likely to fall between Oct. 24 and 26, according to the sources.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry estimates that in the wake of Japan’s defeat in World War II in August 1945, about 575,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians were held in Siberia and other parts of the former Soviet Union as well as Mongolia.

Of them, about 55,000 died due to forced labor, harsh living conditions and malnutrition. Around 25,000 were sent to Uzbekistan, of whom more than 800 died.

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