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(2nd LD) South Korea expresses regret over shrine visit by Japanese officials, lawmakers
SEOUL/TOKYO, Aug. 15 (Yonhap) -- South Korea expressed regret Wednesday after Japanese cabinet members and lawmakers resumed the long-condemned ritual of paying homage at a Tokyo shrine seen as a symbol of Japan's imperialistic past.

   Jin Matsubara, a chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, and Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Yuichiro Hata paid their respects at the Yasukuni Shrine. It was the first time Japanese cabinet members have visited the shrine since the Democratic Party of Japan rose to power in 2009.

   About 50 lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties also visited the shrine.

   The Yasukuni Shrine honors Japan's war dead, including class-A criminals. South Korea, China and other Asian neighbors have denounced Japanese leaders visiting the shrine as attempts to glorify the country's militaristic past.

   Wednesday was the anniversary of the end of World War II and Liberation Day in South Korea that celebrates the country's 1945 independence from Japan's harsh 1910-1945 colonial rule.

   "We consider it truly regrettable," a South Korean foreign ministry official said, calling the visit an "irresponsible act" that does not take into consideration "the feelings of countries and their peoples that suffered under Japan's past imperialism."

   "We urge responsible Japanese politicians to face up to history," the official said.

   The visits are expected to further escalate tensions between Seoul and Tokyo that have heightened in the wake of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's surprise visit to the country's easternmost islets of Dokdo that Japan has claimed as its territory.