Report: Shrine group says Tokyo shrine unlikely to separate war criminals from other vets

Toyko, Japan - A Japanese religious group said Thursday that removing the names of World War II class-A war criminals from a Tokyo shrine wouldn't prevent them from being honored there.

Yasukuni Shrine honors Japan's 2.5 million war dead, including wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and 13 other leaders convicted of the most serious war crimes at the 1946-1948 international war tribunal in Tokyo.

The Association of Shinto Shrines said in a report that while the name plaques of veterans could be moved to another shrine, it wouldn't stop visitors to the shrine from worshipping them, Kyodo news agency reported.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's annual visits to Yasukuni have outraged China and other Asian countries that suffered during Japan's brutal invasion in the run-up to and during the war.

Koizumi recently has faced calls from senior officials in his ruling party as well as a group of former prime ministers to end the visits. Some lawmakers have suggested removing from the shrine's list the names of the most high-profile war criminals. Yasukuni Shrine officials recently rejected the idea.

Japan-China relations have plunged in recent months amid renewed criticism that Japan refuses to face up to wartime atrocities, which has fueled opposition to Japan's pursuit of a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

The Association of Shinto Shrines oversees the training of priests and the preservation of rituals of Japan's indigenous religion at 80,000 shrines nationwide, according to its Web site. A spokesman at the association's Tokyo headquarters couldn't be reached for comment.