TOKYO, Apr 21 (Reuters) Nearly 100 Japanese lawmakers visited Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine today, a move that could upset China and South Korea, who regard the site as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.
The visit came at a particularly sensitive time for Japan- South Korea relations. The two neighbours are embroiled in a diplomatic spat over Japanese plans to conduct an ocean survey near a group of desolate islands claimed by both countries.
There were no cabinet ministers among the 96 lawmakers who visited the shrine, Kyodo news agency said. The bulk were from Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), it added.
The lawmakers were part of a group that visits Yasukuni twice a year during spring and autumn festivals at the shrine.
''It is natural that we should respect those who sacrificed their precious lives for the country,'' Kyodo quoted ruling LDP lawmaker Makoto Koga as saying about the shrine visit.
Japan's ties with China and South Korea have been frayed by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's annual visits to the shrine, where some convicted war criminals are honoured along with Japan's 2.5 million war dead.
Koizumi, who says he makes the visits to pray for peace and honour the war dead, last went in October, triggering protests from China and South Korea.
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