Japan mayor to apologise to US over brothels advice

TOKYO (AFP) - A Japanese politician who drew fire for calling "comfort women" a wartime necessity has been forced to apologise for suggesting US soldiers in Okinawa visit brothels to vent their violent frustrations.

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto had suggested that US servicemen in the southern prefecture of Okinawa, where relations are frequently tested by violent crimes including rapes and assaults, patronise legal sex businesses there.

As the remark triggered disgust in the United States and outrage in Okinawa, Mr Hashimoto said he would retract it at a press conference scheduled Monday at the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Tokyo.

"The word 'sex businesses' was inappropriate," he said in a Saturday programme by YTV broadcaster. "I must apologise to the US military and American people and retract my comment" at the Monday press conference..

But Mr Hashimoto said he has no intention of retracting his other controversial comment that "comfort women" served a "necessary" role during World War II in keeping soldiers in line, a remark that set off a volley of criticism from countries under Japan's rule in the 1930s and 1940s as well as from the US.

Most historians agree the Asian women were pressed into sexual slavery for the Japanese imperial army.

Mr Hashimoto has insisted Japan's soldiers were not unique in brutalising women.

On Friday, Mr Hashimoto said his original remarks were misinterpreted.

"I happen to have used the word 'necessity' but it doesn't mean I personally meant it was necessary," he said.

"I mean that it is a historical truth that soldiers were using women. Was it not necessary for them?" Mr Hashimoto was scheduled to meet a pair of former so-called comfort women on Friday, but the elderly South Korean women cancelled over fears of becoming political pawns in a long-running diplomatic dispute that has stoked tensions between Tokyo and Seoul.

Sex slavery is a particularly sensitive issue in Korea, a former Japanese colony whose people made up many of the up to 200,000 "comfort women" forcibly drafted into brothels for the Japanese military during World War II.

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