Koizumi visits tomb for unknown soldiers amid shrine row with China

Tokyo, Japan - Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi paid respects at a tomb for unknown soldiers killed in World War II amid an intensifying row with China over his visit to a separate war shrine.

Under heavy rain, the prime minister laid a single flower at the Chidorigafuchi cemetery along the moat of the imperial palace where the remains of 300 more unidentified soldiers were placed in a tomb.

Koizumi did not speak at the tomb, where 350,926 troops are now buried.

"With our deepest sympathy, we offer sincere condolences as we remember those who died in the war and laid the foundation for our current prosperity," Health and Welfare Minister Hidehisa Otsuji said.

"We promise to work toward building eternal peace by passing on the lessons learned from the war," said Otsuji, whose ministry organized the annual event attended by about 500 officials and families of war dead.

Koizumi has outraged neighboring nations invaded by Japan in the past century by attending the Yasukuni shrine, a Shinto sanctuary which lists the names of 2.5 million war dead including 14 top war criminals.

Unlike Yasukuni, the Chidorigafuchi cemetery has no overt connection to religion or wartime atrocities.

The government has considered building a secular memorial for World War II at the cemetery but discussions have seen little progress amid controversy over Koizumi's insistence on visiting Yasukuni shrine.

Kaoru Yosano, a senior figure in Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party, proposed on Sunday to delete the names of the war criminals from Yasukuni and honor them at a separate shrine.

Last week Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi abruptly cancelled a meeting with Koizumi during a visit to Japan in what Beijing indicated was a protest over Japanese statements on Yasukuni shrine.

Koizumi has visited Yasukuni every year since taking office in 2001, with the last time on January 1, 2004.