Mon, Jul 24, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Report says Abe is likely to pass up visit to Yasukuni

STEERING CLEAR The man tapped as Koizumi's most likely successor reportedly does not want the shrine to be an issue in September's election

AP , TOKYO

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secre-tary Shinzo Abe, the candidate most favored to succeed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, is unlikely to visit a controversial war shrine next month ahead of the ruling party's presidential election, a news report said yesterday.

Abe may avoid visiting Yasukuni Shrine on Aug. 15, the 61st anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II, the respected national Asahi Shimbun reported, citing unnamed "sources close to Abe."

Yasukuni includes 14 convicted war criminals among the 2.5 million war dead honored there, and Koizumi's repeated visits there have angered China and other Asian countries that suffered under Tokyo's military aggression in the first half of the 20th century.

Abe visited the shrine on Aug. 15, 2004, when he was secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and also last year when he was acting secretary-general, but may not visit this year ahead of the LDP's presidential election in September, the newspaper said.

Abe did not want the shrine visits to become a campaign issue in the election, the Asahi said.

Whoever wins the party election is almost certain to be named prime minister by the Diet's LDP-dominated lower house when it chooses a new leader to replace Koizumi.

The newspaper said Abe has not ruled out visiting the shrine on other occasions and it was not clear whether he would visit if he becomes prime minister.

Abe routinely tops public opinion polls as a favorite to replace Koizumi, whose term ends on Sept. 30.

Abe is known for promoting a more assertive Japan in dealing with China and North Korea. Officials at Abe's office were not available for comment yesterday.

On Friday, foreign policy dove Yasuo Fukuda reportedly said he would not join the race to become the next prime minister.

Fukuda has consistently ranked second in opinion polls behind Abe as a contender to replace Koizumi.

Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, who lags behind Abe and Fukuda in opinion polls by a wide margin, suggested on Saturday that he would not visit Yasukuni if he becomes prime minister, Kyodo News agency reported.

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