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Shinzo Abe visits war-linked Yasukuni shrine after stepping down

Move, announced by tweet, comes following resignation as prime minister

Shinzo Abe is shown on Sept, 16, the day he resigned as Japan's prime minister. Abe visited war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Saturday.

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a tweet Saturday he visited the war-linked Yasukuni shrine days after stepping down from his post, his first visit in nearly seven years.

"Today, I paid a visit to the Yasukuni shrine and reported to the souls of the war dead that I resigned as prime minister on Sept. 16," he tweeted.

The Shinto shrine in Tokyo is viewed by Japan's neighbors in Asia, especially China and South Korea, as a symbol of the nation's past militarism because it honors convicted war criminals along with millions of war dead.

Past visits to the shrine by Japanese prime ministers and lawmakers have drawn sharp criticism from Beijing and Seoul.

Abe had refrained from doing so since his last visit in December 2013, a year after the start of his second stint in office, which provoked a strong response from Beijing and Seoul and disappointed Japan's key ally the United States.

While shunning visits, Abe regularly sent ritual offerings to the shrine for its spring and autumn festivals and on Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II.

Abe recently stepped down as premier without finishing his term due to health reasons.

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