Japanese court rejects damages over Koizumi's war shrine visit

A Japanese court refused to award damages to relatives of people killed in the fierce World War II battle of Okinawa who said they suffered distress from Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to a controversial war shrine.

The Naha District Court rejected the suit by 94 plaintiffs who sought a total of 9.4 million yen (91,200 dollars) for anguish claiming Koizumi violated the constitutional separation of religion and state by visiting the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo.

Since taking power in 2001, Koizumi has made an annual pilgrimage to the Shinto shrine which is dedicated to Japan's 2.5 million war dead including 14 convicted "Class-A" top war criminals.

Koizumi's pilgrimages to the shrine have infuriated Asian countries invaded by Japan, with China refusing any visits by Koizumi.

Plaintiff Kogen Kawabata, a 69-year-old farmer, said he saw his mother and brother die in front of him in the battle of Okinawa, which was the bloodiest battle in the Pacific during World War II.

"My mother and brother did not cooperate with the battle; they were victims of war," he said, as quoted by Jiji Press.

"My mother and brother in heaven are both enshrined at the Yasukuni shrine which praises death in war along with Class-A war criminals. They must have been so sad when the prime minister bowed to them," he said.

Some 100,000 civilians were killed in the battle -- more than one-quarter of Okinawa's population -- along with more than 107,000 Japanese troops and 12,000 American troops.

The 82-day battle ended on June 23, 1945 when Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushijima rather than surrender committed suicide by cutting open his stomach on a southern hill overlooking the Pacific.

Koizumi has denied trying to promote war by visiting the Yasukuni shrine and said that other countries had no right to tell the Japanese how to honor their dead.

The plaintiffs claimed that the populist premier's visits had state support as he used official cars and signed his name in the guestbook with the title of prime minister.

A court in Chiba district east of Tokyo in November rejected a similar suit by 63 people including relatives of World War II victims and Christians concerned about secularism.