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Japan cabinet ministers visit controversial war shrine

TOKYO -- Two Japanese cabinet ministers visited a controversial war shrine Friday in a move likely to aggravate already tense relations with neighbors China and South Korea, which see it as a symbol of Tokyo's militarist past.

Dozens of other politicians were also expected to gather at the leafy site in downtown Tokyo later in the day, while Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was widely expected to stay away as he looks to mend ties with Beijing and Seoul, sent a donation to the shrine through an aide.

The 145-year-old Shinto shrine honors some 2.5 million citizens who died in World War II and other conflicts, including 14 indicted war criminals such as General Hideki Tojo, who authorized the attack on Pearl Harbor, drawing the United States into the war.

Keiji Furuya, chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, was the first minister to pay homage at the site on Friday — the 69th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.

“It is natural to express my sincere condolences for the souls of those who sacrificed their lives for the country,” he told reporters at the shrine.

Soon after Furuya, internal affairs and communications minister Yoshitaka Shindo also visited the site.

Shindo's grandfather was General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, the figure sympathetically depicted by actor Ken Watanabe in Clint Eastwood's film “Letters from Iwo Jima”.

Under scorching sunshine, the shrine was also crowded with hundreds of ordinary people, including veterans in army uniforms carrying Japan's “rising sun” national flags and former military flags.

Among the visitors, some people held white doves — a symbol of peace — at a morning ceremony.

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Japanese men clad in outdated military costumes march to pay respects to the country's war dead at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, Friday, Aug. 15. Japan marks the 69th anniversary of its surrender in World War II on Aug. 15. (AP)

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