Tokyo High Court yesterday rejected a suit against Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's 2001 visit to a war memorial, criticized by some as glorifying Japan's past militarism.
The decision backed up an earlier ruling by a lower court, which threw out a suit demanding compensation for anguish stemming from the visit by Koizumi to Yasukuni Shrine, lawyers for the plaintiffs said.
The suit, brought by 39 plaintiffs demanding ?100,000 (US$885) each in damages, also alleged that Koizumi's visit violated the constitutional separation of state and religion.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs said they probably would appeal.
"Koizumi's visit obviously violates the Constitution, and the ruling is only supporting him," said Kazuhiro Uetake, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs.
Kyodo News Agency reported that the court concluded Koizumi's visit did not infringe on the plaintiffs' rights. The judge also ruled that Koizumi worshipped there privately, so there was no need to decide whether the visit violated the constitution, the report said.
Yoshio Hirose, chief lawyer for the plaintiffs, said that Koizumi's visit could not be private because the premier signed the shrine's visitor book and offered flowers at the shrine using the title of prime minister.
"If Koizumi thought he'd be in trouble if his visit was considered public, why did he bother to write his title as prime minister to sign the book?" he said.
One of the plaintiffs said he was disappointed by the ruling.
"I feel anger and sadness toward the ruling which took sides with the state. We are disappointed and cannot accept it," said Akira Kobayashi, 65.
In the previous ruling in November last year, the Chiba District Court near Tokyo also rejected the suit, then brought by 63 plaintiffs, and also did not rule on the constitutional question.
The high court decision comes amid intense media speculation about whether Koizumi will make another visit to Yasukuni, which enshrines Japan's 2.5 million war dead, including executed war criminals from World War II.
Koizumi argues that he has made the visits -- four since taking office in 2001 -- as a way of honoring those who lost their lives in Japan's wars, and to pray for peace. His last visit was January last year, and some suspect he will visit again before the end of the year.
Worshipping there also serves a political purpose by satisfying the demands of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's right wing.
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