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Japanese premier shuns shrine, apologizes at WWII ceremony

TOKYO -- Japan's new liberal prime minister shunned a visit to a shrine that has outraged Asian neighbors for honoring war criminals, breaking from past governments' tradition and instead apologizing Sunday for the suffering World War II caused.

Members of the now-opposition Liberal Democratic Party, which ruled Japan nearly continuously since the end of the war, made a point by carrying out their own trip to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II.

The Shinto shrine — a spectacular building with sweeping roofs and a museum in its grounds that glorifies kamikaze pilots — has set off controversy by honoring the 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including Class A war criminals such as Hideki Tojo, Japan's war-time prime minister who was executed in 1948.

Among those who visited Yasukuni was LDP leader Sadakazu Tanigaki and former Prime Minister Shintaro Abe. About 40 legislators went to the shrine, but none from Prime Minister Naoto Kan's Cabinet, according to Japanese media reports.

Kan leads the Democratic Party, which took power last after winning elections on promises of greater transparency and grass-roots democracy. It is the first time since the end of World War II that the entire Japanese Cabinet has avoided visiting Yasukuni on Aug. 15, the day Japan surrendered in the war.

“We caused great damage and suffering to many nations during the war, especially to the people of Asia,” Kan told a crowd of about 6,000 at an annual memorial service for the war dead at Budokan hall in Tokyo.

“We feel a deep regret, and we offer our sincere feelings of condolence to those who suffered and their families,” he said. “We renew our promise to never wage war, and we promise to do our utmost to achieve eternal world peace and to never repeat again the mistake of war.”

Among those listening to Kan's words were Emperor Akihito, whose father Hirohito announced the surrender 65 years ago in a radio broadcast — the first time the Japanese public had heard the real voice of the emperor, who had been revered as a living god to justify imperial expansion.

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