Abe to visit war-linked Yasukuni Shrine on Thurs.: gov't

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine on Thursday, the Japanese government said, in a move that is certain to trigger criticism from China and South Korea.

Abe will visit the Shinto shrine in Tokyo at 11:30 a.m., the government said. Thursday marks the first anniversary of the launch of his government.

Such a visit by a Japanese leader is controversial as the shrine honors Class-A World War II criminals along with the country's war-dead and is seen by neighboring countries as symbolic of Japan's wartime militarism.

Abe will become the first Japanese prime minister to visit the shrine since Junichiro Koiuzmi in 2006.

Abe, during his first stint as premier between 2006 and 2007, refrained from visiting Yasukuni in an effort to improve ties with China and South Korea.

But Abe later described the decision as "extremely regrettable," and after taking office for the second time last December expressed his eagerness to visit the shrine.