Japan marks 'return of sovereignty' day

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (top left) and attendees cheer in front of Emperor Akihito (C) and Empress Michiko (C) Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko gave added weight to the event

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Japan has for the first time marked the anniversary of the end of the allied occupation, which followed its defeat in World War II.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the "restoration of sovereignty day" would give Japan hope for the future and help it become "strong and resolute".

The event is seen as part of Mr Abe's nationalist campaign.

He is also pushing for a revision of Japan's pacifist constitution to ease tight restrictions on the armed forces.

It was during last year's election campaign that Mr Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) proposed the event to mark the day in 1952 when the San Francisco Peace Treaty took effect, formally ending WWII and the allied occupation.

"I want to make this a day when we can renew our sense of hope and determination for the future," the 58-year-old said in front of officials gathered in Tokyo.

"We have a responsibility to make Japan a strong and resolute country that others across the world can rely on," he said.

Protests

It was the latest in a series of events and remarks that have angered Japan's Asian neighbours.

Yasukuni Shrine

  • Built in 1869 under the Emperor Meiji
  • Venerates the souls of Japan's war dead
  • Those enshrined include convicted war criminals
  • Japan's neighbours say it represents the country's past militarism

Mr Abe infuriated China and South Korea when he suggested he may no longer stand by the wording of an apology issued in 1995 for Japan's war-time aggression, saying the definition of "aggression" was hard to establish.

China also strongly objected to the visits by several cabinet members and 170 MPs this month to the Yasukuni war shrine, which is seen as a symbol of Japan's imperialistic aggression.

Sunday's ceremony was also controversial with some Japanese. Thousands of people on the southern island of Okinawa took to the streets to denounce the event as a betrayal.

Okinawa was invaded by US marines in 1945 and was not returned to Japan until 1972.

Nearly three-quarters of US troops stationed in Japan under a bilateral treaty are based in Okinawa.

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