Koizumi defends plans to visit war dead shrine


TOKYO, AP

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Monday defended plans to visit a shrine to Japan’s fallen soldiers, brushing off calls by the opposition to refrain because convicted war criminals are among the memorialized.

Koizumi’s promise to visit Yasukuni Shrine on Aug. 15, the anniversary of the country’s surrender in World War II, has attracted criticism from Asian neighbors.

Past visits by senior Japanese politicians have infuriated mainland China, South Korea and other countries that were the targets of Japanese aggression. Wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo is one of those enshrined.

Koizumi, however, downplayed the importance of the visits.

“I don’t see why everybody makes such a big deal over this,” he told lawmakers in Parliament.

Addressing the economy, the reformist premier hinted that a cap may be needed on public works expenditures, saying that past efforts by the government to bring recovery were inefficient.

Koizumi also said that the easy monetary policy and massive spending under previous administrations had failed to ensure recovery and mentioned calls by the public to limit expenditures at current levels.

Japan is trying to recover from a decade long economic downturn that has defied solution.

Koizumi last month won a stunning victory in an election to head his ruling Liberal Democratic Party with vows to dismantle market barriers and end closed-door politicking.

He also wants to resolve a dispute with Russia over the return of four islands in the southern Kuril chain that are claimed by both countries.

Japanese lawmakers were expected later Monday to hand a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin in which Koizumi proposed the two sides discuss the return of the four islands to Japan, the nationwide Yomiuri newspaper said without citing sources.

Masataka Okano, deputy director of Russian affairs at the Japanese Foreign Ministry, confirmed that the delegation of six lawmakers carried the letter but refused to discuss the contents of the message.