Hashimoto denies "comfort women" were sex slaves

Japan Restoration Party co-leader Toru Hashimoto, facing a barrage of criticism over his recent remarks about wartime sexual servitude, said Sunday he does not believe that so-called comfort women were "sex slaves who were forced into service through violence, threat and abduction."

Hashimoto, who doubles as Osaka mayor, reiterated in a TV program that Japan "has a responsibility" toward the women, but said it is "unfair" to single out Japan.

"Whether they were sex slaves or not will affect how the world assesses (Japan). The militaries of other countries similarly used women during World War II. It is unfair to criticize only Japan."

Hashimoto said he will clarify his views at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo on May 27.

Despite the anger and criticism at home and abroad stirred by his remarks, Japan Restoration Party executives, including Hashimoto, co-leader Shintaro Ishihara and Secretary General Ichiro Matsui, agreed Sunday during a meeting in Nagoya that Hashimoto does not need to retract his comments.

"Mr. Hashimoto is making his points clear every day with sincerity. It's a responsibility for a politician to perform his or her duties with clear explanations," Matsui, who doubles as Osaka governor, told reporters after the meeting.

But in a political blow, Yoshimi Watanabe, leader of the small opposition Your Party, said it would withdraw its cooperation for the House of Councillors election this summer and field candidates in districts that the Japan Restoration Party is also aiming to win.

"There's no choice but to dissolve (the partnership)," Watanabe told reporters in Tokyo. The Japan Restoration Party "is not a party to work with...I don't understand why he continues to make such remarks only to hurt public trust. It's just outrageous."

"I would never listen to their explanations. Even if I hear their excuses a million times, it won't help us get back together. We are cutting off ties," Watanabe said.

The two parties had considered jointly fielding candidates in some constituencies.