TOKYO Japan's Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso said on Friday he has no intention of resigning over comments he made, but were later retracted, that were interpreted as praise for Germany's Nazi regime and Adolf Hitler's rise to power.
The comments by Aso, who is also finance minister and a former premier, drew criticism from a U.S.-based Jewish rights group as well as in media in South Korea, where bitter memories of Japan's World War Two militarism run deep.
The gaffe could complicate foreign policy for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe because there are lingering worries that Abe is shifting Japan to the right by pushing for a bigger role for the military and a less apologetic view of Japan's wartime history.
"I have no intention of resigning," Aso told reporters after a cabinet meeting on Friday.
Aso's original remarks were made while he was discussing constitutional reform in a speech to a conservative group on Monday.
"Germany's Weimar constitution was changed before anyone realized," Aso said, according to Japanese media accounts.
"It was altered before anyone was aware. Why don't we learn from that technique?" Aso said. "I don't want us to decide (on the constitution) amid commotion and excitement. We should carry this out after a calm public debate."
On Thursday, Aso said he had meant to seek a calm and in-depth debate on the constitution. He said he wanted to avoid the kind of turmoil that he said helped Hitler change the democratic constitution established by Germany's Weimar government after World War One, under which the dictator had taken power.
Abe wants to revise Japan's constitution, drafted by the United States after World War Two, to formalize the country's right to have a military. Critics say his plan could return Japan to a socially conservative, authoritarian past.
Public opinion polls also show that revising the constitution does not have broad support.
Aso, the scion of a family whose mining company used Korean forced laborers during Japan's 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean peninsula, has talked himself into trouble before.
During his 2008-2009 stint as prime minister, Aso offended a wide swathe of voters with off-the-cuff remarks that included a joke about sufferers of Alzheimer's disease.
He offended the main opposition party before becoming prime minister by apparently likening them to Nazis.
(Reporting by Stanley White; Editing by Paul Tait)