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Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto Survives Censure Vote Over Sex Comments

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AP
AP

TOKYO -- The mayor of Japan's second-largest city survived a censure motion Thursday over his inflammatory comments about Japan's wartime sex slavery, remarks that sparked an international uproar.

The Osaka city assembly voted down the motion, which said Mayor Toru Hashimoto's comments earlier this month about Japan's so-called "comfort women" created confusion and tarnished the city's image.

Hashimoto, also co-leader of an emerging nationalistic party, said he would stay on as mayor. He said that he took the motion seriously, but that he had no intention of retracting his remarks or apologizing over them.

"If I caused misunderstanding, I'm sorry. But I don't think what I'm saying is wrong. I still believe what I'm saying is right," Hashimoto said, referring to his comments about Japan's wartime practice that forced many Asian women into prostitution for Japanese soldiers.

The outspoken mayor sparked controversy after he said May 13 that Japan's use of "comfort women" before and during World War II was necessary for military discipline and providing rest for troops.

He sought later to clarify his comments, saying he meant that military authorities during that time must have deemed the practice necessary.

The motion had been expected to pass, but was voted down because of a last-minute rejection by a main opposition party amid concerns that Hashimoto's possible resignation could drive municipal politics into further disarray. The vote was delayed for hours while opposition lawmakers debated what to do.

Though a censure motion is not legally binding, Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui said ahead of the vote that Hashimoto would have to step down as mayor if it passed. Matsui also serves as secretary general of Hashimoto's Japan Restoration Party.

Despite his survival Thursday, Hashimoto's political future remains uncertain. He already has hinted that he might step down as co-leader of his party if it suffers a major defeat in July's parliamentary elections.

Since he came under fire, Hashimoto has largely lost the city assembly's backing for his projects promised in his campaign platform. A bill to combine city and prefectural water projects was voted down, and a privatization of a city-operated subway system was postponed.

According to media polls, more than 70 percent of Japanese thought his remarks were inappropriate.

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Associated Press writer Malcolm Foster contributed to this report.

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