Japanese Court Rules Premier's Visits to War Shrine Illegal

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A Japanese court on Friday handed a rare victory to opponents of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to a war shrine, ruling that the visits violated Japan's constitutional separation of religion and the state.

Experts said the ruling by the Osaka High Court probably would not force the Japanese prime minister to stop visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan's war dead, including those hanged for criminal conduct during World War II. But they called it a symbolic victory for critics here and elsewhere, who regard the visits as a measure of Japan's lack of contrition for wartime atrocities.

"This will strengthen Koizumi's opponents," said Hiroshi Nakanishi, a professor of international politics at Kyoto University. "More people will be encouraged to speak out against the visits."

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