Japanese PM voices regret for war-time atrocities

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TOKYO (Reuter) - While the Prime Minister, Tomiichi Murayama, voiced repentance yesterday for Japanese atrocities in the Second World War, seven of his ministers visited a shrine to Japan's war dead housing the ashes of convicted war criminals.

Yesterday marked the 49th anniversary of the Japanese surrender, and Mr Murayama and Emperor Akihito paid their respects to the 3.1 million Japanese soldiers and civilians killed in the conflict. 'We have failed to reconcile ourselves with our Asian neighbours on whom we imposed tragic sufferings through our misdeeds,' said Takako Doi, the Socialist speaker of the Lower House of Parliament.

Mr Murayama and the Emperor expressed sorrow for the sufferings the Imperial Army caused to the peoples of neighbouring countries. 'That battle brought tragic sacrifices beyond description to many people in Asia and the world,' Mr Murayama told a government-sponsored ceremony at Tokyo's Budokan (Martial Arts Hall) attended by thousands of relatives of Japan's war dead.

'Reflecting deeply on the agony and sorrow of these people, I would like to offer heartfelt condolences to them with a deep repentance,' he said. 'We must repent for our own history and tell younger generations about the wretchedness of war and numerous precious sacrifices caused by the war.'

But seven cabinet ministers defied a request from the Prime Minister not to visit the Yasukuni Shrine, a symbol of Japan's militaristic past. In central Tokyo, it enshrines the 2.6 million military dead. Among these are a handful of war criminals condemned by the Tokyo War Crimes trials.