Aso retracts remark citing Nazis as example for constitution change

Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso on Thursday retracted his controversial remarks that could be interpreted as holding up Nazi Germany as an example for Japan to follow in amending its Constitution, aiming to alleviate criticism as soon as possible.

"I retract my remarks in which I cited (the case of) the Nazis as an example, as it has ended up leading to misunderstanding," Aso, who doubles as finance minister, told reporters.

Aso, who served as a prime minister for a year from September 2008, came under fire both internationally and domestically after he said in a speech Monday in Tokyo, "Germany's Weimar Constitution was changed before anyone knew. It was changed before anyone else noticed. Why don't we learn the technique," referring to the event that occurred under the Nazi regime.

The outspoken Aso emphasized Thursday that he pointed to Nazis as a "bad example" of constitutional revision, saying the Weimar Constitution was "changed amid bustle without adequate public understanding and discussion."

"I believe that it is extremely important that constitutional amendment should be calmly discussed," he said.

Aso also said, "I view the Nazis and the process in which the Weimar Constitution (was changed) extremely negatively," adding, "I deeply regret that remarks I made (on Monday) regarding the Nazi regime caused misunderstanding."

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference Thursday that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government "never looks positively at the Nazi regime."

"Our country has consistently created a society that thoroughly champions peace and human rights since World War II. The direction will never change down the road," said Suga, the government's top spokesman.

Suga said later in the day that Aso does not need to step down as a Cabinet member.

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, a global Jewish human rights organization, has lashed out at Aso's comments by releasing a statement.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the group, was quoted in the statement as saying, "What 'techniques' from the Nazis' governance are worth learning -- how to stealthily cripple democracy?"

"Has Vice Prime Minister Aso forgotten that Nazi Germany's ascendancy to power quickly brought the world to the abyss and engulfed humanity in the untold horrors of World War II?"

At a news conference Thursday, South Korea's Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai Young requested Japanese political leaders to be "more careful" about their language and behavior.

Cho said Tuesday it is "obvious" that Aso's remarks "hurt" many people, urging him to consider the sentiment of people in Japan's neighboring nations that "suffered damage by invasion."

In April, Aso visited the war-related Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, stirring a further backlash from South Korea and China at a time when ties with them have already soured over territorial issues.

At home, lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties also lambasted Aso.

Akihiro Ohata, secretary general of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, said Thursday that Aso's remarks "harm national interests" as they can be translated as suggesting he "acclaims" what the Nazis did.

DPJ leader Banri Kaieda said at the party's board meeting that Aso "cannot get away by only retracting" his comments, expressing his intention to "strictly" pursue Abe's need to take responsibility for appointing Aso as a Cabinet member.

The small opposition Social Democratic Party called on Aso to resign as a Diet member.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, head of the New Komeito party, Abe's Liberal Democratic Party's coalition partner, said at a press conference, "Politicians who hold an important position have to make remarks very carefully."

LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba told reporters, "The government has to respond in order not to create misunderstanding," adding the LDP "will also do what it can to avoid disrupting diplomacy."

Abe's LDP and New Komeito scored a landslide victory at the House of Councillors election July 21.