Japan’s Abe won’t visit controversial shrine: Report

TOKYO  (AFP) - Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will not visit a controversial shrine to war dead on the anniversary of his country’s surrender in World War II, a report said on Thursday.

Kyodo News, citing a government source, said Abe would stay away on August 15 from the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo.

It said the move could be seen as part of efforts to avoid further tensions with countries such as China and South Korea which were victims of Japan’s pre-war and wartime aggression.

The shrine honours some 2.5 million citizens who died in World War II and other conflicts, including 14 top convicted war criminals.

Visits to Yasukuni by Japanese leaders always spark anger in neighbouring nations, who say the country has failed to atone for its brutalities in the first half of the 20th century.

Abe, a hawkish nationalist, defended the right of leaders to visit the shrine in an interview in May.

“I think it’s quite natural for a Japanese leader to offer prayer for those who sacrificed their lives for their country, and I think this is no different from what other world leaders do,” he told Foreign Affairs magazine.

Abe has stayed away from the shrine since taking office in December for a second term, but a growing number of his ministers visit it.

He has vowed to strengthen Japan’s defences and not to yield to China over contested islets.