Japanese justice minister fired for inflammatory remark on Nanking massacre

May 08, 1994|By New York Times News Service

TOKYO -- A former Imperial Army officer who served a little more than a week as Japan's justice minister was dismissed yesterday, three days after he provoked protests throughout Asia by declaring that one of the biggest massacres of World War II, the "Rape of Nanking," was a "fabrication."

Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata asked the justice minister, Shigeto Nagano, for his resignation as Japan tried to quell growing outrage all over Asia over the remarks.

"The bad effects caused in neighboring countries has reached a worrisome stage," Mr. Hata reportedly said, according to Japanese news accounts. "We have to stop the further spread of this trouble."

Late last night, a new justice minister, Hiroshi Nakai, 51, was appointed by Mr. Hata. Mr. Nakai is a lawmaker from the Democratic Socialist Party, a small left-leaning party.

The decision to ask for Mr. Nagano's resignation came despite his effort Friday to withdraw his remarks. Yesterday, he again offered "apologies for causing such a big shock and anger in our neighboring countries."

As recently as Friday night Mr. Hata appeared reluctant to dismiss Mr. Nagano, 71, who rose to the rank of chief of staff of the postwar Japanese army before entering politics and becoming a senior member of Mr. Hata's Japan Renewal Party.

But on his return from Europe yesterday, the prime minister apparently decided that the comments had done too much damage to Japan's rocky relations with China and South Korea. Equally important, the growing protests were threatening the survival of Mr. Hata's minority government as many political enemies of his coalition prepared to tie up Parliament for days or weeks with questions about Japan's responsibility for the war.

Some Japanese officials, trying to put the best face on the handling of a highly embarrassing incident, said that Mr. Nagano's ouster showed that there was no longer any political tolerance for efforts to play down Japan's wartime responsibility.

In an interview published Wednesday in a Japanese newspaper, Mr. Nagano had deepened his problems by characterizing former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa as "wrong" for declaring Japan's invasions in Asia a "war of aggression."

One country after another called in Japanese diplomats last week and dressed them down, saying that Japan had set back its efforts to repair relations by years.

Mr. Nagano was the first former general in the modern Japanese military to hold a Cabinet position. His appointment seemed to mark an indirect rehabilitation of the Japanese military, showing that their officers, once retired, were qualified to join the civilian government.

He said that the massacre in the eastern Chinese city in 1937 had never happened and cited as evidence his arrival "shortly afterward" as a young Imperial Army officer.

It turned out that his first visit there was in August 1941. The massacre took place in 1937.

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