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Japan's Abe avoids controversial shrine on war anniversary
[TOKYO] Japan's prime minister offered a ritual cash donation to a controversial Tokyo war shrine Wednesday but did not visit in person, as the country marks the 73rd anniversary of the end of World War II.
Shinzo Abe sent an aide to Yasukuni Shrine once again, staying away from a site that honours Japan's war dead, including convicted war criminals.
Visits by Mr Abe and other senior Japanese politicians have angered China and other Asian neighbours, and the prime minister's decision to stay away comes as he works to improve ties with Beijing.
Yasukuni honours some 2.5 million people, mostly Japanese, who perished in the country's wars since the late 19th century.
It also enshrines senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal after World War II, making it a flashpoint for criticism from countries that suffered from Japan's colonialism and aggression in the first half of the 20th century, including China and the two Koreas.
"Please pray for the souls of the dead. I am sorry that I am not able to pay a visit myself," aide Masahiko Shibayama quoted Mr Abe as telling him.
Mr Abe will speak later Wednesday at a ceremony at a Tokyo stadium marking the anniversary. Emperor Akihito will also give an address, his last commemorating the war's end before he steps down next year.
Mr Abe has been criticised for what some see as a revisionist attitude to Japan's wartime record and he has routinely sent ritual offerings to mark the shrine's key events, such as the war anniversary and seasonal festivals.
Mr Abe last visited in December 2013 to mark his first year in power, a move that sparked fury in Beijing and Seoul and earned a diplomatic rebuke from close ally the United States.
A group of Japanese lawmakers were expected to make a visit to the shrine, but none of Mr Abe's key cabinet members was expected to be among them.