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China,S.Korea leaders have rare chat with Koizumi

Written by: Staff
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HELSINKI, Sep 10 (Reuters) Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi today chatted with leaders of China and South Korea, who have refused one-on-one meetings with him because of his visits to a war shrine seen as a symbol of Japan's militaristic past.

The rare encounters took place as leaders of 13 Asian countries mingled on the sidelines of a two-day Asia-Europe summit that opened in the Finnish capital today.

Koizumi exchanged ''simple greetings'' with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.

The Japanese prime minister also greeted South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and alluded to ongoing bilateral discussions about a dispute over desolate islands claimed by both Tokyo and Seoul, the official said.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman had no immediate comment on Wen's encounter with Koizumi. A South Korean official described the exchange between Roh and the Japanese leader as ''perfunctory''.

The Chinese and South Korean leaders have refused to hold bilateral meetings with Koizumi, angered by his annual homages at Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which honours wartime criminals alongside 2.5 million war dead.

Visits by Japanese leaders to the shrine stir bitter memories in China of Japan's 1931-1945 invasion and occupation of large parts of the country while resentment still lingers in South Korea over Japan's often-brutal domination of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

Last month, China accused Koizumi of ''wrecking the political foundations of China-Japan relations'' when he visited the shrine on the anniversary of Tokyo's World War Two surrender.

Koizumi has said he goes to the shrine to pray for peace.

REUTERS SY BD1943

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