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Australian soldiers join visit condemnation

By CNN's Grant Holloway

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Australia's war veterans have joined the chorus of condemnation surrounding the visit by Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to Yasukuni war shrine.

The Returned Services League national president Maj. Gen. Peter Phillips said some Australian veterans would consider the visit to be an "ultranationalist" and would be upset by Koizumi's decision.

"I think even within Japan it's been condemned as unnecessarily provocative," Phillips said.

Japan's Imperial Army took 30,000 Australian soldiers as prisoners during World War II as Japan advanced through Southeast Asia.

The prisoners were kept in appalling conditions, with many starved, tortured or worked to death. Of those captured, 36 percent perished in the Japanese camps, a far higher figure than for Allied soldiers held in German PoW camps.

Phillips said the visit was more about local Japanese politics than a deliberately insulting act, adding that the shrine had a lot of cultural and religious significance in Japan.

"I think the issue really is about local politics and the new prime minister making his mark, as it were, with the Japanese people," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

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