TOKYO, April 21 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to the notorious war-linked Yasukuni Shrine on Friday in a move that has repeatedly drawn the ire and upset Japan's neighbors. One of the prime minister's aides, a senior cabinet minister and a 90-member cross-party group of lawmakers also visited the infamous shrine on Friday. Along with Abe's offering, Welfare Minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki and speakers of both houses of the Diet also sent ritual offerings to the shrine on the occasion of its annual spring festival. Although ritual offerings and visits to the war-linked shrine draw staunch criticism from neighboring countries, around 90 Japanese cross-party lawmakers still chose to visit the shrine on Friday and Seiichi Eto, an aide to the prime minister and a ruling Liberal Democratic Party upper house lawmaker, also made a point of publicly visiting the shrine. The conservative lawmaker coterie included the group's leader, Hidehisa Otsuji, a senior member of Abe's ruling LDP, and Yuichiro Hata, a senior member of the opposition Democratic Party. Sanae Takaichi, Japanese minister for internal affairs and communications, who is well-known for her conservative leanings, also paid a visit to the war-linked shrine on Friday. More of Abe's cabinet ministers may also visit the controversial Shinto shrine during the festival that concludes on Sunday, informed sources have said. Abe himself is reportedly refraining from visiting the notorious shrine during the festival in person in an effort to prevent further damage to Japan's relationship with China and South Korea at a time when the region is facing heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Abe has not visited Yasukuni Shrine since December 2013. Instead, he chose to make "masakaki" offerings for both spring and autumn festivals at the contentious shrine. Yasukuni Shrine honors 14 Class-A convicted war criminals among 2.5 million Japanese war dead from WWII and is regarded as a symbol of past Japanese militarism. The Japanese World War II leaders were convicted of war crimes by a postwar international tribunal. Visits and ritual offerings made by proxy to the infamous shrine by Japanese leaders and officials have consistently sparked strong criticism from China and South Korea. Enditem
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