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Wednesday, 17 May, 2000, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
Japanese PM says sorry
Yoshiro Mori
Yoshiro Mori's comments angered Japan's opposition
Japan's Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori has apologised for sparking a row by describing the country as a divine nation centred on the emperor.



We hope the Japanese people acknowledge that Japan is a divine nation centring on the emperor

Yoshiro Mori

But reports say four opposition parties are still planning to demand his government's resignation over the controversial comments.

His statement, coming in the run-up to a general election expected on 25 June, stunned the public on Monday

I did not say the emperor is a god

Yoshiro Mori

It evoked memories of a brutal imperial Japan that invaded Asia in the name of an emperor-god in the 1930s and 40s.

And it appeared to blur the postwar constitutional separation of state and religion.

Sorry

Apologising on Wednesday, Mr Mori told parliament his comment was not meant to be anti-democratic.


Shinto monk
Shinto followers worshipped the emperor as a god during WWII
"It is a matter of course that I, as prime minister, strictly uphold and respect the sovereign power, which resides with the people, and freedom of religion," he said.

"I am sorry if I have caused a misunderstanding and I would like to offer my apologies."

But he told reporters that he would not retract the remark, which he said was meant to reflect "Japan's eternal traditional culture".

Resign

However, four opposition parties said they had agreed to demand the resignation of the Mori government.



We want Mori's cabinet to step down en masse as soon as possible

Ryohei Adachi, Democratic Party

Democratic Party president Yukio Hatoyama said the comments ran "counter to the rights protected under the constitution".

"Prime Minister Mori said he would apologise if he caused a misunderstanding, but we think we are dealing with a matter which has nothing to do with misunderstanding," he added.

Mr Mori made his controversial remarks at an event for followers of the native Shinto religion, which worshipped the late Emperor Hirohito as a living god during World War II.

He later said he had been referring to the emperor only as a historical symbol and had been trying to stress that the country's history and culture should be treasured.

Separation

Japan's postwar pacifist constitution decrees the rigid separation of religion and politics.

It has also stripped the emperor of any political role, describing him only as a symbol of the nation.

Mr Mori, who has a reputation for verbal gaffes, took over as prime minister only six weeks.

Analysts said he may have been trying to generate support from religious groups in the run-up to the election.

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See also:

16 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan: A divine country?
05 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Profile: Yoshiro Mori
15 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Row over Obuchi funeral
09 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan fixes election date
30 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan gives priority to Russia
07 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Mori pledges Japan 'rebirth'
05 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
New Japanese PM chosen
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