Japanese group seeks to sue PM over shrine visit

JAPAN - A civic group in Osaka, Japan, is expected to file a lawsuit against Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for visiting the Yasukuni Shrine on Dec 26, claiming the visit has brought trauma to the group. They are seeking financial compensation from the state, the prime minister and the Yasukuni Shrine, according to Japan's Kyodo News agency.

The suit, which at its earliest can be filed in March, is the latest in a series of criticisms leveled at Abe for his December visit, which immediately drew the ire of China and South Korea and disappointment from the United States.

Abe is not the only Japanese prime minister who has been on the wrong side of Japan's constitution for setting foot in the Shinto shrine.

The legality of prime ministerial visits to the Yasukuni Shrine was called into question following the "official visit" in 1985 by then Japanese prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone.

During former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi's tenure, more than 6,000 people in Japan and overseas filed lawsuits in the country's local courts, charging that his repeated visits to the shrine as prime minister violated the separation of state and religion enshrined in Japan's constitution.

The shrine honors Japanese war dead, but also those from Korea and Taiwan who fought and died when they were under Japanese occupation. The relatives of these enshrined soldiers had asked the shrine to remove their relatives' names, claiming the enshrinement was done against their wishes. They take offence that their relatives were enshrined along with Japan's 14 Class-A war criminals.

On a 2001 lawsuit against a Koizumi visit to the shrine, Judge Hiroshi Muraoka ruled in 2004 that the visit was not private but public.

In 2004, the Fukuoda District Court, for the first time, ruled that Koizumi's 2001 visit to the Yasukuni was contrary to the Japanese constitution.

Yasukuni is a place where Japanese soldiers who died for Japanese emperors, not the country, are enshrined. For many Japanese people, it is not an appropriate place for the Japanese prime minister and politicians to honour the country's fallen soldiers.

In a Jan 21 interview with Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy criticised Abe's Yasukuni visit and urged Tokyo to work harder to ease strains with its neighbours.

Reiterating previous US statements on the visit, Kennedy said the US was "disappointed" by Abe's decision.

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