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September 20, 2017

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Japanese minister visits controversial Yasukuni war shrine

TOKYO--A Japanese cabinet minister visited a controversial war shrine in Tokyo on Saturday, in a move that sparked condemnation by South Korea, which along with China sees it as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.

Television footage showed Yoshitaka Shindo, minister for internal affairs and communications, paying homage Saturday morning at the Yasukuni shrine.

The shrine honors Japan's war dead including several high-level officials executed for war crimes after World War II.

Shindo, a regular visitor to Yasukuni, insisted that it was a "private matter," playing down the potential for diplomatic fallout.

"Offering condolences to the war dead can be seen in any country," Shindo was quoted by new agency Jiji as saying following his visit, which came ahead of the shrine's annual spring festival on April 21 to 23.

But South Korea criticized the trip, calling it a "challenge" to its neighbors, according to news agency Yonhap.

"The Japanese cabinet member's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine that glorifies (Japan's) past aggressions, made again in defiance of the international worries, constitutes a head-on challenge to the neighboring countries that suffered from Japan's past imperialism as well as to the international community," Yonhap cited a foreign ministry statement as saying.

A group of Japanese parliamentarians makes pilgrimages to the shrine during spring and autumn festivals and on Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II, enraging neighboring nations.

China and South Korea see it as a brutal reminder of Tokyo's imperialist past and wartime aggression, and its failure to repent for its history.

In December, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made his first visit as premier to the shrine since he took office in December 2012.

Seoul reacted angrily, while Japan's ally the United States said it was "disappointed" by the prime minister's decision as it would raise regional tensions.

Earlier Saturday, three Chinese government ships entered the territorial waters around the East China Sea islands, called the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China, for several hours, according to the Japanese coastguard.

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