Japanese politician likens opposition party to Nazis

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The outspoken politician tipped to become Japan's new leader when Yasuo Fukuda steps down as Prime Minister has infuriated his opponents by likening them to the Nazi Party.

Taro Aso, the politician from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), said Germany had invited disaster by "deciding to let the Nazis assume power", a reference to the opposition Democratic Party (DPJ), which is gunning to end his party's half-century grip on power.

Mr Aso's outburst at a closed meeting was apparently provoked by the Democrat politician Satsuki Eda who warned that the electorate was slipping away from the LDP. "People voted for the Nazis too," snapped Mr Aso. "The DPJ needs to act in a more responsible manner."

The remarks, which the DPJ called "unforgivable", are telltale signs of frustration in Mr Aso's camp a year after the Democrats handed his party a historic defeat and took control of Parliament's upper house, where it has used its power to block government legislation.

In a recent speech that again raised the spectre of jackboots, Mr Aso accused the opposition of stalling debate: "Under the Weimer Republic there were numerous instances of refusals to debate. That made people think maybe we should give the Nazis a try and we all know what that led to." Mr Aso, a former foreign minister and one of Japan's best-known conservatives, has a long history of treading on diplomatic toes. Last year, he angered Koreans and Chinese by claiming that accusations that Japan enslaved thousands of wartime sex slaves "lacked objective evidence".

The controversy reignited discussion of the Aso family's wartime past. His father, Takakichi, headed a coal mining conglomerate in Japan's southern island of Kyushu that was accused of using thousands of Koreans as slave labourers. Mr Aso ran the company in the 1970s but has never acknowledged its past or offered compensation.

A few months later he was back in the news when he said Americans were incapable of solving the Middle East crisis because they have blond hair and blue eyes. "Japanese are trusted," he said. "Luckily we have yellow faces." In 2001, while economics minister, he urged Japan to become a country where "rich Jews" would want to live.

During a recent discussion about rice prices in China and Japan he again provoked anger by saying that "even people with Alzheimer's disease" could understand the difference. In 2006, he appeared to suggest that Japan – the world's only nuclear bomb victim – should go nuclear, saying that discussion on the subject "should be encouraged".

Another of Japan’s procession of blue-blooded political elite, Mr. Aso is related to Emperor Akihito by marriage. His grandfather, Yoshida, is one of the country’s most famous postwar prime ministers and his wife, Chikako, is the daughter of another Prime Minister, Zenko Suzuki. He once competed for Japan as a marksman in the Olympics.

But his resume of boneheaded bon-mots has not stopped him becoming one of Japan's most popular politicians. A poll in the conservative Sankei newspaper this week showed Mr. Aso enjoying about 16 percent more support than Mr. Fukuda, who has just appointed him LDP Secretary General in a bid to shore up the party’s declining fortunes. The post is widely seen as a stepping stone to the country’s top political job.

Mr Aso claimed yesterday that his remarks had been misunderstood. ''I only said it is important to deliberate matters seriously in the upper house," he said. "I do not mean the DPJ are Nazis."