Japan PM Visits Controversial War Shrine

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has visited a controversial war shrine to mark the 61st anniversary of the end of World War Two.

Mr. Koizumi's visit to the Yasukuni shrine Tuesday lasted only a few minutes. Afterward, the Japanese leader said he visited the shrine to show remorse for victims of war, and to renew his vow that Japan will never wage war again.

The pilgrimage sparked immediate protests from China and South Korea, which view the shrine as a symbol of Japan's militaristic past.

China's Foreign Ministry, in a statement, said the visit challenges international justice and tramples the conscience of mankind. In Beijing, several protesters gathered outside Japan's Embassy.

In Seoul, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said Japan should prove that it has no intention of repeating the past by backing up its apologies with actions. South Korea's Foreign Ministry summoned the Japanese ambassador to Seoul to protest the pilgrimage.

The 19th century Shinto memorial honors Japan's war dead, including 14 convicted World War Two criminals.

Mr. Koizumi has made several visits to the shrine since taking office in 2001, but this is his first on August 15th -- the anniversary of Japan's 1945 surrender.

Mr. Koizumi's visit to the Yasukuni shrine also coincides with Japan's Festival of the Dead, held annually from August 13th to 15th. It is a period of prayer for the souls of one's ancestors, and is one of Japan's most significant annual traditions.