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Japanese minister Aso withdraws Nazi comment

A Japanese minister has withdrawn a remark suggesting his country could learn from constitutional changes made by the German Nazi party in the 1930s. Tokyo wants legal amendments to allow a strengthening of its military.

Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso on Thursday retracted his comment, which was interpreted by some as praise for the Nazi regime.

The minister said his words - suggesting that a more stealthy approach should have been taken to the constitutional changes - had been taken out of context.

"It is very unfortunate and regrettable that my comment regarding the Nazi regime was misinterpreted," Aso told reporters. "I would like to retract the remark about the Nazi regime."

Aso - known for a loose speaking style that has landed him in trouble in the past - said he had made the comments in good faith. The minister said he used the German Nazi party's quiet dismantling of the Weimar Republic's constitution in the 1930s as a partial example, rather than a model.

Aso's speech to an ultra-conservative group meeting in Tokyo on Monday caused international consternation as he embraced the issue of constitutional change. "I don't want to see this done in the midst of an uproar," Aso had said. "Doing it quietly, just as in one day the Weimar constitution changed to the Nazi constitution, without anyone realizing it, why don't we learn from that sort of tactic?"

The words caused a stir, both at home and abroad, with the opposition Social Democratic Party calling them "totally incomprehensible."

'Techniques worth learning?'

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish rights group, had urged Aso to "immediately clarify" his remarks. "What 'techniques' from the Nazis' governance are worth learning? How to stealthily cripple democracy?" said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the comments showed that "Japan's neighbors in Asia, and the international community, have to heighten their vigilance over the direction of Japan's development."

In South Korea, Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young said the comments would "obviously hurt many people."

'A bad example to use'

In his retraction, Aso said he had referred to the Nazis as a "bad example of a constitutional revision that was made without national understanding or discussion."

"If you listen to the context, it is clear that I have a negative view of how the Weimar constitution got changed by the Nazi regime," he said.

Germany's passing of the Enabling Act in 1933 empowered the Cabinet, under Hitler, to legislate without the approval of parliament or the president. It also meant the executive could enact laws that were contrary to the constitution.

Japan and Nazi Germany were allies in World War II, with Japan occupying much of Asia - including South Korea and China - and Germany much of Europe.

rc/hc (AP, Reuters)