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(LEAD) S. Korean FM cancels trip to Japan over Tokyo war shrine
SEOUL, April 22 (Yonhap) -- South Korean foreign minister Yun Byung-se has canceled his trip to Japan this week in diplomatic protest against a series of visits by Japan's cabinet members to a controversial war shrine, a Seoul official said Monday.

   Yun had planned to hold his first bilateral talks with Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida during his two-day visit to Tokyo from Friday, but abandoned the plan after two Japanese ministers visited the Yasukuni war shrine on Sunday, the senior official at Yun's ministry said.

   "Minister Yun was aimed at laying out a big direction between the new governments of Korea and Japan during his planned visit to Japan," the official said on condition of anonymity.

   "Amid this kind of atmosphere, our stance is that it will be difficult to hold a productive discussion and Yun decided not to visit to Japan this time," the official said.

   In particular, the official denounced a visit by Japan's deputy prime minister Taro Aso to the Yasukuni shrine as an "irresponsible act."

   The Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo honors Japan's war dead, including 14 designated as Class A criminals by the allies in the trials that followed World War II.

   In moves that are certain to anger South Korea and China, Japan's cabinet ministers including Aso, Keiji Furuya, chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, and Katsunobu Kato, deputy chief cabinet secretary, paid their tributes to the shrine in recent days.

   Japan's nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also offered a "masakaki" tree that is traditionally used in rituals to the shrine, with his name written under the title of "prime minister," according to Japan's Kyodo news agency.

   Seoul's foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young strongly criticized Japan's ministers for visiting the shrine.

   "The Korean government expresses deep regrets and concerns over the offering by the Japanese prime minister to the Yasukuni Shrine and acts by Japanese cabinet ministers of paying tribute to the shrine that glorifies Japan's past aggressive wars and enshrines its war criminals," Cho said in a statement.

   Cho demanded the Japanese government immediately stop such anachronistic acts. "If Japan truly has the will to take on responsible roles in the international community while contributing to peace and co-prosperity of the region, it must first build mutual trust with its neighboring countries by facing up to the historical truth and taking on corresponding acts."

   In South Korea, memories are still fresh over Japan's brutal colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945, which left deep scars on the hearts of Koreans as they were banned from using their own language at schools and forced to adopt Japanese names. Hundreds of thousands of Koreans were also mobilized as forced laborers and sex slaves, euphemistically called "comfort women."

   Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have chilled following an unprecedented visit to the South Korean islets of Dokdo last August by the South's former President Lee Myung-bak, who cited Tokyo's unrepentant attitude over its harsh colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula as a key reason for his trip.

   kdh@yna.co.kr
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