TOKYO (AP) – Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Sunday marked the 59th anniversary of the end of World War II by vowing to pursue peace, while three members of his Cabinet visited a war shrine Japan’s neighbors say glorifies the country’s aggressive past.

Nearly 2.5 million war dead, including executed war criminals, are worshipped at Yasukuni Shrine as deities. Koizumi sparked outrage in 2001, particularly in China and South Korea, when he visited the shrine just days before the Aug. 15 anniversary of the Japanese surrender.

The prime minister has since avoided visiting the shrine in August, although he goes to pay his respects every year. This year he entered the shrine’s wooden halls on New Year’s Day.

Such patronage has long been a flashpoint between Japan and its Asian neighbors, who still harbor bitter memories of Japan’s militarist expansion in the region and view continued worship at the shrine as evidence Japan has yet to fully atone for past wrongs.

Nevertheless, on Sunday Koizumi’s trade, agriculture and public safety ministers visited the controversial shrine.

Trade Minister Shoichi Nakagawa said he went to Yasukuni on Sunday to pay his respects.

“I thanked those that died and offered prayers for their peaceful rest,” Nakagawa said.

Meanwhile, Koizumi observed a moment of silence and laid flowers at a cemetery for the unknown war dead near the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

At an annual ceremony commemorating eight years of war – which began with a Japanese campaign to subjugate China and ended with Japan’s defeat at the hands of U.S. forces in the Pacific – Koizumi promised a crowd of several thousand that the country would play a role in advancing world peace.

“I will put all my effort into contributing to world peace and to obtaining more confidence from the world,” Koizumi said.

Emperor Akihito told the same crowd, mostly dressed in black, that he prayed for peace and for Japan’s further development.

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