Tue, Sep 12, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Abe says he may visit Yasukuni, amend Constitution

AFP AND AP , TOKYO

Shinzo Abe, the front-runner to be Japan's next prime minister, said yesterday that he may continue secretly visiting a war shrine opposed by neighboring countries but insisted the trip would be unofficial.

"I want to pray for the war dead. I want to keep that feeling from now on," Abe told a nationally televised debate with his two rivals before next week's vote by the ruling party.

"Japan has freedom of religion. It is natural to maintain this political value," the chief cabinet secretary said.

But even if he makes a pilgrimage to the Yasukuni shrine after he becomes prime minister, "it's not going to be an official visit," Abe said.

"So I don't think I have to announce it officially," he said.

Abe has repeatedly refused to say if he would go to the war shrine as prime minister or to confirm accounts he went secretly in April.

Outgoing Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has prayed annually at the shrine, infuriating China and South Korea, which see the site as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.

Koizumi last visited the Yasukuni shrine on Aug. 15, the emotionally charged anniversary of Japan's World War II surrender. Abe went to the shrine on the same date last year.

China has refused summits with Koizumi due primarily to his visits to the shrine, which honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead and 14 top war criminals.

Constitution

Abe also said yesterday he hopes to amend the country's postwar pacifist Constitution within five years.

The front-runner favors a more assertive Japanese foreign policy, and pledged to push for revisions in the 1947 pacifist Constitution to make it easier for the country's military to join peacekeeping teams and other foreign operations.

``Amending the Constitution is not something we can achieve in one or two years. I am thinking more of a five-year span,'' Abe said in his debate with Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki and Foreign Minister Taro Aso.

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