[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 26 March 2007, 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK
Japan PM apology on sex slaves
South Korean protester shouts a slogan during an anti-Japanese rally in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, 21/3/07
Mr Abe's earlier comments triggered anger in several countries
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has apologised in parliament for the country's use of women as sex slaves during World War II.

The apology comes after Mr Abe was criticised by Asian neighbours for previous comments casting doubt on whether the women were coerced.

Mr Abe told parliament: "I apologise here and now as prime minister."

This appears to be part of a concerted bid to reduce the fall-out of earlier comments, a BBC correspondent says.

Mr Abe said, during a debate in parliament's upper house, that he stood by an official 1993 statement in which Japan acknowledged the imperial army set up and ran brothels for its troops during the war.

"As I frequently say, I feel sympathy for the people who underwent hardships, and I apologise for the fact that they were placed in this situation at the time," he said.

His statement has gone a little further than similar attempts to clarify his position two weeks ago, but is unlikely to satisfy all his critics abroad, the BBC's Chris Hogg in Tokyo says.

The row over his comments have compounded the difficulties facing Mr Abe. His six-month premiership has already been rocked by a series of scandals and gaffes.

An opinion poll on Monday found public support for him - Japan's youngest ever prime minister - had shrunk to just 35%.

US resolution

Mr Abe provoked an angry reaction earlier this month after questioning whether there was any proof that the Japanese military kidnapped women to work as sex slaves during the war.

Mr Abe's comments drew sharp criticism from China and South Korea in particular, where many of the women came from.

A former South Korean comfort woman demonstrates at an anti-Japanese rally in Seoul on 14 March 2007
Many women have testified they were forced to work in Japanese brothels

Many historians believe Japan compelled up to 200,000 women - who also came from the Philippines, Indonesia and Taiwan - to become sex slaves during the war.

But some Japanese conservatives argue that the women were professional prostitutes who had been paid for their services, and any abuses were carried out by private contractors rather than the military.

Mr Abe's comments about the use of coercion were made as the US Congress began considering a non-binding resolution, which calls for Tokyo to make an unequivocal apology for the so-called comfort women.

Officials in Japan reject the idea that the prime minister should be told how to apologise by politicians from overseas, our correspondent says.

They say the draft resolution does not recognise the efforts that have been made to compensate the former comfort women.

Mr Abe's latest remarks in parliament have been made to clear up any misunderstanding and not as a result of outside pressure, they stress.

Viewpoints: Abe sex slave row
21 Mar 07 |  Asia-Pacific
China raps Japan over sex slaves
06 Mar 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Japan refuses sex slave apology
05 Mar 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Sex slave denial angers S Korea
03 Mar 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Abe questions sex slave 'coercion'
02 Mar 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Japan anger at US sex slave bill
19 Feb 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Japan WWII sex slave redress call
12 Mar 05 |  Asia-Pacific


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific