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Japanese Official Drops Idea of Dedications to War Criminals

TOKYO (AP) -- Japan's government has backed away from a proposal
to remove dedications to convicted war criminals from a
controversial shrine, officials said Wednesday.

The proposal, floated by Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka
last week, apparently was meant to make it easier for government
officials to visit the Yasukuni Shrine in central Tokyo.

Pacifists and Asian countries invaded by Japan during World War
II have protested visits by government officials to the temple,
which enshrines those killed in the war, including convicted war
criminals like World War II Prime Minister Tojo Hideki.

The powerful Federation of New Religious Organizations of Japan
said official visits violate the constitutional separation of
church and state, and sent a protest letter to Prime Minister Keizo
Obuchi on Tuesday.

The federation, comprised of 66 religious organizations, also
objected to the proposal's provision to make the temple a nonprofit
corporation. The group said such a status would dilute the temple's
religious significance.

On Tuesday, Nonaka backtracked from the idea of changing the
shrine's status, saying "the government is not in a position" to
decide religious matters, the prime minister's office said.

Before and during World War II, Yasukuni was a bastion of the
military government's adapted version of Japan's indigenous Shinto
religion, which established the emperor as a deity.

Government officials often pray at the shrine -- dedicated to 2.6
million Japanese war dead -- to mark Tokyo's World War II surrender
on Aug. 15, 1945.

(Copyright 1999 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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