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  Japanese Defense Official Resigns

By Kozo Mizoguchi
Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, Oct. 20, 1999; 2:45 a.m. EDT

TOKYO –– A high-ranking Defense Agency official resigned today after his suggestion that Japan should consider arming itself with nuclear weapons came under heavy criticism.

Shingo Nishimura, a parliamentary vice minister for defense, handed in his resignation to Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, an official at the premier's office said on condition of anonymity.

The hawkish political appointee said in an interview with Weekly Playboy magazine that Parliament "should consider the fact that Japan may be better off if it armed itself with nuclear weapons." The magazine went on sale Tuesday.

Any suggestion of developing nuclear weapons is very sensitive in Japan, where U.S. atomic bombs destroyed the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, near the end of World War II.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki said earlier in the day that it was "extremely inappropriate" for Nishimura to voice his personal opinions in a magazine article.

The national Asahi newspaper reported today that Obuchi had decided by late Tuesday to dismiss Nishimura. Officials would not confirm the report.

Nishimura was also attacked by anti-nuclear activists.

"The remarks run counter to Japan's constitution and trample the wishes of the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki," said Shigetoshi Iwamatsu, the head of the Japan Congress Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs. The group urged Nishimura to resign.

Japan's U.S.-penned constitution forbids military action that is not in self-defense, and supporters of the so-called "peace clause" take any suggestion of Japanese development of nuclear weapons as a sign of resurgent militarism.

Nishimura also came under fire for remarks in the interview comparing a nuclear arsenal that keeps countries from attacking one another to rape laws that prevent men from attacking women.

"If men did not face any punishment for raping women, then all men – including myself – would be rapists," he said. "But punishment, as a deterrent, prevents that from happening."

The 200,000-member New Japan Women's Association called for his immediate resignation, saying his remarks were "abusive."

Nishimura gave his resignation to Obuchi after meeting with Aoki at the prime minister's residence today, officials said.

Nishimura, a member of the Liberal Party, has been at the center of controversy before. In 1997, he angered activists in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan when he made a trip to a disputed island in the East China Sea and planted a Japanese flag.

Obuchi approved Nishimura's appointment to the Defense Agency post on Oct. 5, when the prime minister reshuffled his Cabinet to launch a new coalition government consisting of his Liberal Democratic Party, the Liberal Party and the New Komeito Party.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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