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Apr 21, 6:29 AM EDT

Abe sends offering to shrine honoring Japan's war dead

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Abe sends offering to shrine honoring Japan's war dead

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TOKYO (AP) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering Friday to the controversial Yasukuni shrine that honors Japan's war dead, including convicted war criminals.

The leafy "masakaki" plant was sent for the shrine's spring festival the same day that more than 90 Japanese lawmakers and Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi visited Yasukuni.

Abe has made regular offerings for Yasukuni's seasonal festivals but has not visited the shrine since December 2013, when he drew rebukes not only from China and South Korea but also the United States.

As victims of Japan's aggression before and during World War II, China and South Korea see the shrine as a symbol of Japan's militarism.

South Korea, in a written statement, expressed "deep concern and regret over responsible political leaders of the government and the parliament of Japan having once again sent offerings to and paid tribute at the Yasukuni Shrine, which glorifies Japan's past colonial rule and war of aggression and enshrines war criminals."

In Beijing, Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said "the ones who attended the Yasukuni shrine are honoring war criminals who have direct responsibility for crimes committed during World War II."

He urged Japan to "reflect and examine their history of colonization, and to sever ties with their militarism past."

Hidehisa Otsuji, the head of a lawmaker group campaigning for official visits to the shrine, said he believed the prime minister's decision on whether to make personal visits should be based on "the priorities of national interest."

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Abe's offering was made in a "personal capacity," but declined to comment further.

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