Top court rejects legal challenges against Koizumi's Yasukuni visits

Toyko, Japan - The Supreme Court on Tuesday turned down two appeals filed by kin of the war dead and others to seek damages over visits by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to Yasukuni Shrine, which they said violated the Constitution.

The ruling let stand lower-court decisions that rejected the demands by a group of plaintiffs from Chiba Prefecture and another group from the Shikoku region.

The top court threw out both lawsuits because they were simple claims for legal violations and not eligible for an appeal with the apex court, according to the justices of the Supreme Court.

The Chiba suit was handled by the Third Petty Bench presided by Justice Tokiyasu Fujita and the Shikoku case was addressed in the Second Petty Bench with Justice Shigeo Takii presiding over it.

In both cases, the plaintiffs said Koizumi's official visits to the Shinto shrine violated the constitutional provision on separation of religion and state, which caused them psychological stress in turn because their freedom of faith and thought was threatened.

Both the Tokyo High Court and the Takamatsu High Court last year upheld lower court decisions which rejected the plaintiffs' claims while avoiding ruling on whether the premier's visits were constitutional.

Koizumi's annual visits to the controversial shrine since he assumed office five years ago have triggered a series of lawsuits.

Last Friday, the top court turned down a similar appeal by a group of 278 plaintiffs, including Japanese and South Korean relatives of the war dead, saying that "it cannot be said the plaintiffs' legal interests have been violated."

The Friday ruling was the first by the top court over lawsuits filed in relation to visits by a premier to the shrine including those made by the past premiers.