Japan's leader apologizes for war atrocities

Monday, August 15, 2005

TOKYO -- Japan's leader apologized for Tokyo's World War II colonization and invasions Monday, after other Asian nations marked the 60th anniversary of the Japanese surrender by honoring their dead and demanding compensation.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi pledged that Japan would never forget the "terrible lessons" of the war, and expressed his "deep reflections and heartfelt" sorrow for the damages.

The occasion inspired commemorations across Asia on Sunday and Monday. North and South Korea held a rare joint event while protesters in Hong Kong Sunday burned Japan's flag and marched on Tokyo's consulate chanting "Down with Japanese imperialism!"

In the Philippines, elderly women once forced to act as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers renewed demands for compensation and apologies. Former Australian prisoners of war returned to the Thai jungles where they labored under brutal conditions to build the notorious Death Railway.

China exhorted its citizens to remember Tokyo's surrender on Aug. 15, 1945, with "a fresh wave of patriotism," as state-run media whipped up memories of Japanese atrocities.

The outpouring of emotion revealed the unhealed wounds six decades after Japan's Emperor Hirohito conceded defeat in a radio broadcast, just days after the United States incinerated the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs.

The anniversary comes as Japan's relations with its neighbors are their most frayed in decades.

Regional strains stem partly from anxiety over North Korea's nuclear arms program and a dispute between Japan and China over resources in a contested area of the East China Sea. But there are also bitter complaints that Japan has not properly atoned for brutally occupying much of the region in the 1930s and '40s.

"I can accept the fact that the young generation of Japanese is not to blame. It was their fathers and grandfathers. But until they own up, they'll always be a pariah nation," said 84-year-old Baden Jones, an Australian.

He was among former POWs who honored fallen comrades at a ceremony in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, where many of the 12,000 prisoners who died building Japan's jungle railway were buried.

Bitterness runs especially deep in China. Riots erupted earlier this year over Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni war shrine -- which deifies Japan's war dead, including convicted war criminals -- and over Tokyo's approval of history textbooks that critics say gloss over wartime atrocities.

The northeastern city of Qiqihar put on an exhibit commemorating the death of a Chinese man two years ago from a mustard gas canister abandoned by Japan's army, the China Youth Daily reported.

The leak also injured 42 people.

Japan invaded China in 1931. Its troops massacred as many as 300,000 people after taking the city of Nanjing in December 1937, and Japanese scientists performed germ warfare experiments on Chinese prisoners.

Looming over this year's remembrances was the Yasukuni shrine, which honors Japan's war dead, including its prime minister during World War II, Hideki Tojo.

Speculation mounted that Koizumi could visit there as early as Monday to commemorate the end of World War II -- an act sure to further enrage Chinese and Koreans.

Taku Yamasaki, former vice president of Koizumi's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said Sunday he did not think Koizumi would visit on the sensitive date.

"More people are realizing the importance of good diplomatic relations with our neighboring countries," he said.

But Koizumi needs to bolster support among conservative Japanese for next month's parliamentary elections and he hasn't visited the shrine since January 2004. He said Friday he would make "the appropriate decision when the time comes."

North Korea decried the shrine visits as a sign of resurgent Japanese militarism.

"These militarist forces are directly exercising increasing influence on shaping policies," the communist country's state-run Korean Central News Agency said in a commentary Saturday.

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