TOKYO - Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso retracted on Thursday a comment he had made that referred to Adolf Hitler's rise to power and which was interpreted as praising the Nazi regime.
The outspoken Aso, who is also finance minister and a former prime minister, said he had caused misunderstanding with the comment, which has drawn criticism from a US-based Jewish-rights group and media in South Korea, where bitter memories of Japan's World War Two militarism run deep.
The furore caused by Aso - no stranger to gaffes - and the government's effort to smother the issue highlights the sensitivities facing hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
His push to take a less apologetic tone in Japan's diplomacy and his interpretations of wartime history have attracted repeated criticism from countries such as the two Koreas and China, which suffered under harsh Japanese rule before and during the war.
Japan's Asian neighbours are wary of Abe's drive to revise a US-drafted post-war constitution, which renounces war, as part of a more assertive defence and security policy.
Aso was discussing constitutional revision in a speech to a conservative group on Monday when he made the controversial statements.
"Germany's Weimar constitution was changed before anyone realized," Aso said in his typically rambling style, according to accounts in various Japanese media.
"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."