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Last Updated: Friday, 4 June, 2004, 09:47 GMT 10:47 UK
Japan killing comments spark row
Satomi Mitarai (undated file photo)
Satomi Mitarai, 12, was murdered by a schoolmate on Tuesday
A Japanese minister has been criticised after he linked a murder committed by an 11-year-old schoolgirl to a rise in female assertiveness.

"This seems to show that vigorous women are increasing," said Kiichi Inoue, disaster prevention minister.

It is the latest in a string of gaffes by Japanese politicians.

Critics said it was an inappropriate response to a grisly crime which has shocked the nation. Satomi Mitarai, 12, was slashed to death on Tuesday.

I don't think the central argument is whether the accused is a male or female
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda

"Men have committed thoughtless, harsh acts but I think this is the first for a girl," Mr Inoue told reporters. "Recently the difference between men and women is shrinking."

The comments were immediately criticised by women's groups.

"By saying that this incident occurred because females are strong is just crazy," said Harumi Okazaki from the Women and Work Research Centre in Tokyo.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda also said the remarks were out of place.

"I don't think the central argument is whether the accused is a male or female," he said.

Mr Inoue used the same term in his comments - "genki", which means spirited and healthy - as a senior lawmaker did last year, when he described men who carried out gang rapes.

Internet row

Satomi Mitarai's killer has reportedly told police she was annoyed by comments her former friend made about her appearance during their exchanges in internet chatrooms.

"She wrote something bad about my appearance several times on the net a few days before the incident. I didn't like that, so I called her (to a study room) and slashed her neck after getting her to sit on a chair," the Yomiuri Shimbun quoted the girl as telling police sources.

The Mainichi newspaper said she told investigators she had planned the murder four days earlier, and had been inspired to use a paper cutter after seeing the method used in a television drama.

There has been considerable hand-wringing in Japan over youth crime, ever since a shocking incident in 1997 in which a 14-year-old boy killed an 11-year-old and placed his severed head outside the gates of his school.

That prompted the country's parliament to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 14.

Last year a 12-year-old boy in Nagasaki was accused of murdering a four-year-old boy by pushing him off a roof.

The latest incident has shocked Japan's media.

"We must make children understand even more the basic importance of life," the Yomiuri said in an editorial on Wednesday.

Although Japan is still one of the safest developed nations in the world, youth crime has dramatically increased in recent years.

The number of children under 14 committing serious crimes in 2003 rose to 212, a 47% increase on the previous year.

Mitarai's killer, who is too young to be punished under the Penal Code, has been transferred to juvenile detention while her case goes before a family court, the Associated Press said.

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