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Court: Koizumi shrine visits unconstitutional
Latest Updated by 2005-09-30 17:03:26

A Japanese court Friday ruled that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to a Tokyo war shrine violated the constitution, but rejected a group of Taiwanese plaintiffs' demands for compensation.

The Osaka High Court said Koizumi's worshipping at Yasukuni shrine - which critics say glorifies Japan's past militarism - is a public act and therefore violates the constitutional separation of state and religion, a lawyer for the plaintiffs said.

It was not immediately clear whether the ruling had the force to prevent further visits, but the plaintiffs and their supporters said the decision was a watershed. It was the second time in the past 18 months that a Japanese court has ruled such visits unconstitutional.

"This is groundbreaking, a landmark ruling," Mitsunori Nakajima, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told The Associated Press from the western city of Osaka. "Most important was the recognition that Koizumi's visits were clearly carried out in a public capacity."

The government was disappointed.

"I don't understand why my visits to Yasukuni violate the constitution," Koizumi said at a parliamentary session following the ruling. "I'm paying my respects to those who died in the war, with the conviction that we must never wage such a war again."

"I visit Yasukuni as a private citizen, and as Prime Minister, but not in a public capacity," he added.

The court rejected compensation demands of $88 by each of the 188 plaintiffs, who included a Taiwanese lawmaker and bereaved families of World War II veterans from Taiwan, many of them enshrined at Yasukuni against the families' wishes, according to court spokesman Masaharu Otani. Taiwan is a former Japanese colony.

"We're not satisfied with today's ruling, though it did take one little step forward," said Taiwanese lawmaker May King, one of the plaintiffs. "We urge the Japanese government to take three or four steps forward," she said.

It was the second ruling on a lawsuit concerning the shrine in as many days. On Thursday, Tokyo High Court turned down a similar case and declared Koizumi's visits were private, but it did not rule on the constitutionality of worshipping at Yasukuni.

Koizumi has gone to the shrine four times since becoming prime minister in April 2001. Fukuoka District Court in southern Japan ruled last year that one of the visits violated the constitution, but the decision lacked the legal force to stop further visits.

The prime minister last went to Yasukuni in January 2004, and speculation has been rampant that he could visit the shrine again before the end of the year. He refuses to discuss his plans, but such a visit is sure to enrage Japan's neighbors. Past visits have contributed to the serious deterioration in ties between Tokyo and Seoul and Beijing.

Japan's 2.5 million war dead are worshipped as deities at Yasukuni, a shrine in Japan's native Shinto religion. They include 14 Class-A war criminals executed after World War II, such as wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.

"These visits go against Article 20 of the Japanese constitution, which calls for the separation of the state and religion," the ruling read, according to Nakajima.

In ruling that the visits were public, the court pointed to the fact that Koizumi visited the shrine with a government secretary and used a state car, and also criticized the premier for not clearly denying he was on an official visit.

Nakajima said he was not certain whether the decision would stop Koizumi from going to Yasukuni again. The prime minister could attempt to avoid the constitutional issue by traveling to the shrine in a personal car and then claim to worship at Yasukuni as a private citizen, Nakajima said.

Editor: Yan

 
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