Emperor's failure to apologise arouses angry protest by PoWs

The years have not dimmed the memories of the British former prisoner-of-war survivors who lined the Mall yesterday and turned…

The years have not dimmed the memories of the British former prisoner-of-war survivors who lined the Mall yesterday and turned their backs on Japan's Emperor Akihito as he drove past with Queen Elizabeth in the Irish state carriage.

Perhaps it was fear of rain or perhaps it was thought better for Anglo-Japanese relations that Emperor Akihito and Queen Elizabeth would ride in an enclosed carriage rather than the usual open-topped version. Whatever the reason, it meant the sound of hundreds of ex-servicemen whistling Colonel Bogey was somewhat muffled as the stately guests and their hosts waved their way past the crowds.

The former PoWs arrived in their hundreds from early morning, some wearing their war medals, to line the short route along the Mall to Buckingham Palace and call once again on Emperor Akihito to apologise for Japan's treatment of captured soldiers during the second World War. They are also seeking compensation from the Japanese government in the courts. Underneath tall poles carrying the striking colours of the British and Japanese national flags, the veterans, who were outnumbered by pro-Japanese tourists and supporters, staged their symbolic protest. As the carriage carrying Emperor Akihito and Queen Elizabeth passed them they turned their backs and began humming their protest tune. Other supporters waved banners with poignant messages such as "12,433 registered deaths between 1942-45. Rest in Peace", and angry ones like "compensation overdue."

One of the veterans, Mr Jack Caplan (83), said he was "devastated" by the Emperor's visit. "The memories of watching my friends being beheaded and watching them squirm on the ground in my camp in Thailand is why I'm here. To see him honoured by the Queen and the Royal Family is shameful." The Prime Minister, Mr Blair, however, stressed the importance of looking to the future rather than dwelling on the past. While Britain did not forget the suffering and hardship of the events of the second World War, "we must recognise that we have a relationship with today's Japan . . . it means our relationship is one for the present and future whilst never forgetting the past," he said.


His comments were denounced by Mr Arthur Titherington, the chairman of the Japanese Labour Camps Survivors' Association, whose organisation is bringing a court case against the Japanese government in Tokyo for nearly £14,000 compensation for each veteran. "It's all very well asking to give the Emperor a warm welcome, but the only warm part of it was the temperature going up a bit. The Emperor is Head of State of Japan, and therefore he must accept responsibility," he said.

In his banquet speech, the Emperor said he was truly saddened that Anglo-Japanese relations had been marred by the war.

He said: "The Empress and I can never forget the many kinds of suffering so many people have undergone because of the war.

"At the thought of the scars of war that they bear, our hearts are filled with deep sorrow and pain.

"All through our visit here this thought will never leave our minds.

"We sincerely hope that such a history will never be repeated between our two nations.

"At the same time, may we express our profound respect and gratitude to those people who, despite past sufferings, looking towards the future, have dedicated immeasurable efforts to the cause of friendship between our two countries."

The Queen also referred to the tragedy of the war.

"While the memories of that time still cause pain today, they have also acted as a spur to reconciliation.

"Over the last 50 years we have been able to rebuild our relationship on a new and deeper basis."

At a state banquet in Buckingham Palace last night, Emperor Akihito, who is constitutionally unable to apologise for the atrocities because he is prevented from commenting on political issues, said he could "never forget" the many kinds of suffering undergone by so many.

But his words failed to satisfy the veterans, who said their protests would continue. His comments, it was felt, might have been construed as also referring to those Japanese who were victims of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Lawyer Mr Martyn Day, representing former prisoners-of-war and internees, said ex-PoWs respected the Emperor for his words which "clearly went further than anything he had said before".

"However, the Emperor's speech does not alter the position one jot as far as any expression of an apology to the PoWs is concerned. The demonstrations will continue and the fight for compensation and a full apology will go on," said Mr Day.

The Emperor and Empress Michiko also visited Westminster Abbey yesterday, where they laid a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Warrior. On the first day of a three-day visit, Emperor Akihito went out of his way to speak with a group of young people that had been invited to watch the wreath-laying ceremony. After standing in silence at the tomb, the Emperor spent 10 minutes talking to the group called Pacific Venture, which included the grandchildren of former internees and prisoners. However, after the ceremony, several veterans staged another protest outside the Abbey, shouting out "go home" and booing.