[JURIST] New Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe [official profile, BBC profile] declared before parliament Friday that Japanese leaders during World War II were not war criminals. Abe, who took office late last month [NYT report], had said a day earlier that Japanese leaders were responsible for the deaths of many people within the country and elsewhere in Asia during the war, echoing a 1995 government apology [text] for Japan's role in wartime atrocities. Friday, however, he said that the "so-called Class A criminals were tried and convicted as war criminals at the Tokyo tribunal, but they were not war criminals under domestic laws." He offered his grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi [Wikipedia profile], as an example. Kishi was imprisoned by US officials after the war but never charged with war crimes.
Abe's comments come a few days before a scheduled trip to South Korea and China, where he is expected to build diplomatic relations that suffered under the government of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi [official profile]. In June, Japanese and South Korean plaintiffs brought a lawsuit [JURIST report] against Koizumi for mental anguish stemming from his visits to the Yasukuni war shrine [shrine website], which honors Japanese who died in the war, including war criminals. The claim was rejected by the Tokyo High Court [JURIST report], however. Abe has also faced criticism for his calls to amend the country's 1947 constitution [JURIST report], which forbids the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes. AFP has more. Kyodo News has local coverage.