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Former Japanese leader Nakasone denies setting up sex slave brothel in World War II
The Associated Press
Friday, March 23, 2007
TOKYO: A Japanese former prime minister and elder statesman Friday denied setting up a military brothel staffed by sex slaves during World War II, despite writing a memoir that critics say shows he did so while in the navy.
Yasuhiro Nakasone, who served as prime minister from 1982 to 1987 and was known for his friendship with then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan, described the facility he set up as a place for civilian engineers to relax and play Japanese chess.
"I never had personal knowledge of the matter," Nakasone told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan when asked about wartime sex slaves, known in Japan euphemistically as "comfort women."
"I only knew about it from what I read in the newspaper," he said, adding that such enslavement was "deplorable" and that he supported the Japanese government spokesman's 1993 apology to victims.
Historians say thousands of women — most from Korea and China — worked in the frontline brothels, and estimates run as high as 200,000. Victims say they were forced into the brothels by the Japanese military and were held against their will.
The U.S. House of Representatives is considering a resolution that calls on Japan to make a full apology for the brothels, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stirred criticism earlier this month when he denied there was evidence the women were forced into service.
A Nakasone memoir published in 1978 said that members of his 3,000-man navy unit in wartime Philippines and Borneo "began attacking women, while others took to gambling."
"At one point, I went to great pains to set up a comfort station" to keep them under control, he wrote. The essay was in an anthology of war accounts, "The Eternal Navy — Stories to Hand Down to the Younger Generation."
In the 1990s, former Philippine sex slaves cited the memoir as further proof Nakasone was involved with enslavement, bolstering their demands that Tokyo compensate the victims. The Japanese government in 1995 set up a private fund for the women, but never offered direct government compensation.
A Nakasone spokesman in 1997 told The Associated Press that the brothel was operated by local business people and that the prostitutes worked there voluntarily and had not been forced into sexual slavery.
But on Friday, Nakasone was vague about the activities at the facility, skirting a question about whether prostitutes were active there.
"The engineers ... wanted to have a facility to relax and play 'go,' so we simply established a place so they could have that," Nakasone said, explaining that the men — civilian engineers — needed someplace for rest and entertainment.
Nakasone's government, as all Japanese governments until the 1990s, denied any official involvement with the wartime brothels.
The former prime minister is known in Japan for his nationalist stance. In 1985, he was the first Japanese prime minister to visit a Tokyo war shrine after it began honoring executed war criminals.
Elton John urges fight against homophobia
POSTED: 0408 GMT (1208 HKT), March 22, 2007
LONDON, England (Reuters) -- Elton John has paid tribute to gay rights campaigners and urged others around the world to "stand up and speak out" against homophobia.
The British singer, who tied the knot with long-term partner David Furnish in a civil ceremony, said people must stand up for the human rights of homosexuals.
"In December 2005, I was legally bound to the man I love," he wrote in the New Statesman magazine. "It's my legal right and my human right. And I wanted everyone to know, I wanted to shout about it.
"In some countries, my voice would have been drowned out. Maybe even stamped out.
"Men and women are persecuted and attacked every day all over the world, just because of who they love and who they make love to."
The singer, who celebrates his 60th birthday on Sunday, paid tribute to William Hernandez, a gay rights campaigner in El Salvador.
Amnesty International says Hernandez and others in his organization Entre Amigos (Between Friends) have received death threats for their work.
"People like William are a lot braver than me. When the bigots shout abuse, they shout back," the singer wrote.
"My voice has served me pretty well over the years. I hope maybe it can do him some good too. But we need more voices.
"Whether the bigot is in our local pub or a thousand miles away, we should all stand up and speak out for these basic human rights."
The article was for a column in the magazine in which well-known public figures highlight Amnesty cases.
Web posted at: 14:52 JST
Texas is the unlikely home of biggest gay church
Tue Mar 20, 2007 2:35PM EDT
By Ed Stoddard
DALLAS (Reuters) - They say everything is bigger in Texas.
But the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas makes one Texas-sized claim that few would expect in the conservative Bible Belt state -- it says it is the world's biggest gay church.
"I think this shows that God has a tremendously great sense of humor," said senior pastor and rector Jo Hudson.
On a more serious note, she says the church, affiliated with the United Church of Christ, is a spiritual refuge for gay people of faith in a region associated with more conservative brands of Christianity.
"Because we are in the Bible Belt we have a lot of people of tremendous faith," she said in an interview.
"But a lot of them have been alienated and rejected by their faith community, which is fundamentalist, so they hanker for a place where they can encounter God," she said.
Gays and the church are no small matter in America. Many of the country's 60 million evangelicals view homosexuality as a sinful lifestyle choice -- a stance that angers gay activists who say their sexual orientation is not a choice.
The Episcopalian church -- the American wing of the Anglican Communion -- is sharply split on the matter of gay clergy, while the Republican Party has used state ballot initiatives banning gay marriage to get its supporters out to the polls.
Hudson estimates that over 90 percent of the Cathedral's 3,500 members are gay, lesbian or transgender.
Founded in 1970 by a dozen gays and lesbians who gathered in a home and decided they wanted a safe and tolerant place to worship, it has grown into a large and affluent institution centered on a cavernous church that can seat up to 900.
Last year it became part of the United Church of Christ, which claims 1.3 million members in 5,725 U.S. congregations and traditions of diversity and pioneering action on social justice.
On a recent Sunday during Lent -- a period of prayer and penance in the run-up to Easter -- mostly gay couples, men and women, streamed in for morning services.
The big pickup trucks and sports utility vehicles gave the parking lot a Texan flavor and most were on the expensive side -- highlighting the fact that being openly gay remains a mostly white-collar phenomenon in America.
The church offered liturgical worship with an Episcopalian flavor, complete with communion. It also provides contemporary and Spanish-language services.
But there was no discussion of homosexuality from the pulpit. One pastor spoke of South African Archbishop and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu and the importance of forgiveness.
Hudson's sermon focused on humanity's propensity to wander.
FOCUS ON THE POOR
Members of the congregation said that while the church was a place of spiritual comfort for gays, its focus was on ministering to the wider community, especially the poor.
"We don't talk much about gay stuff here," said Coy James, who has been attending the church for almost 30 years.
"We give over $1 million each year in aid and services to the poorest of the poor and we have adopted elementary schools in low-income areas and helped them with tutoring and other things," he said after the service.
Others are drawn by its liberal theology in a range of areas that go beyond sexual orientation.
"I'm from a Catholic background and have an issue with its stance on women in the priesthood," said Chris Kuntz, who said he joined the Cathedral in 1994.
All of this places the church firmly on the left of America's political and cultural divide -- another anomaly in the red-blooded, Republican-dominated state of Texas.
The church's store prominently displays books such as "The Real AntiChrist: How America Sold its Soul," with a cover photo of President George W. Bush with his hands clasped in prayer.
But its liberal views on sexual orientation are also clearly a big part of its attraction for many members who might not feel comfortable or welcome in other churches.
"Homosexuality & Christianity: no matter who you are, God loves you," declares the church's Web site, which features a discussion on the matter, stressing among other things Jesus' silence on the subject.
Southern Baptists and other socially conservative denominations point to mostly Old Testament passages that they say shows God's dim view of homosexuality.
"The Bible could not be more clear -- all forms of homosexual behavior are expressly condemned as sin," said R. Albert Mohler Jr., the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in a recent statement on the issue.
Hudson says such attitudes both underscore the importance of her church for gay Texans and explain its size.
"Sometimes where there is great oppression, great justice emerges," she said.
【ダラス 20日 ロイター】
Japan elections a key test for Abe's embattled government
The Associated Press
Thursday, March 22, 2007
TOKYO: Pivotal campaigns kicked off Thursday across Japan with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe facing the first major electoral test of his embattled government.
Abe's public support languishes at all-time lows, his Cabinet is embroiled in scandal and international outrage swirls around his views on World War II sex slaves.
Japan's youngest prime minister might be forgiven for wishing the April 8 polls for 13 prefectural governors and hundreds of other local officials could be postponed.
"It's not perfect timing," political analyst Shigenori Okazaki said. "Now Abe's losing his approval rating and suddenly the elections look very tough."
Of the races, the Tokyo gubernatorial poll is seen as a bellwether of Japan's drift to the right under Abe and his future political capital. It pits an outspoken reformer against firebrand conservative Shintaro Ishihara, the incumbent.
In some ways, Ishihara can be seen as a stand in for the prime minister.
Backed by Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Ishihara has been a champion of fiscal responsibility and conservative causes during his eight years as Tokyo governor.
But he is also a lightning rod of controversy for what critics say are disparaging remarks about foreigners and for policies seen as too nationalistic, such as the order for teachers to sing the national anthem, the "Kimigayo."
Challenger Shiro Asano, backed by the opposition Democratic Party, says Ishihara's "discriminatory comments" and "dictatorial style" are out of step with voters.
"Unless somebody stops Ishihara now, I feel that the situation not only in Tokyo but in Japanese politics as a whole may get entirely out of hand," the former governor of Miyagi prefecture said at a news conference earlier this week.
Similar criticisms might also be leveled against Abe, who has made nationalism a top rallying cry. He has pushed for teaching patriotism in the schools and reforming the pacifist constitution to give the military a bigger profile.
Deputy Cabinet Secretary Hiroshi Suzuki, an Abe spokesman, said Thursday that April's results should not be misinterpreted as a direct vote of confidence on Abe.
But the polls will nonetheless be a closely-watched barometer of the LDP's prospects in parliament's critical upper house elections in July, he said.
"Of course these elections are important," Suzuki said. "Those elections would be the run-up for the upcoming Upper House elections this coming summer."
Abe's approval rating currently hovers just above 40 percent, a drastic tumble from the 70 percent support level he enjoyed when taking office last September.
Approval has been whittled away partly by a scandal involving huge, unexplained expenses for a rent-free office linked to Agriculture Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka.
Cabinet gaffes have also hurt. In February, Health Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa called women "birthing machines," prompting calls for his resignation.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma ruffled feathers by declaring the U.S.-led war in Iraq, to which Japan dispatched troops, a "mistake."
Abe's troubles deepened when he angered neighboring nations by saying there was no evidence Japan's military or government forced women to work in World War II brothels.
Historians say about 200,000 women, mostly from Korea and China, served in Japanese military brothels throughout Asia in the 1930s and '40s. Many victims say they were kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery by Japanese troops.
A reinvigorated Democratic Party, led by Ichiro Ozawa, a former LDP heavyweight who defected, is waiting to pounce. And Abe's vague policy platform and nationalistic outlook may give it plenty of fodder for criticism.
The big prize will be control of parliament's upper house, up for grabs in nationwide elections this July. The April 8 polls, as well as two upper house by-elections later in the month, may foreshadow who comes out on top.
Published: March 22, 2007 at 2:24 PM
Analysis: N. Korea scores on Japan in sex
By SHIHOKO GOTO
Senior Business Correspondent
WASHINGTON, March 22 (UPI) -- When it comes to encouraging gender equality, it seems that even North Korea wants to boast of having higher standards than Japan. What's more, there are growing concerns in Japan that its leader's denial of the military forcing Chinese and Korean women into prostitution during World War II is driving a wedge between Japan and the world at large at best, and making it ironic for Japan to pester North Korea about its own human-rights abuse at worst. And for Pyongyang today, creating a schism between Japan and the other countries in negotiating nuclear disarmament may be to its advantage.
For now, there is no doubt that Pyongyang wants to highlight Japan's transgressions and use them to its advantage. At the United Nations' Human Rights Council earlier this week, the North Korean delegation accused Japan of subjugating women even today as it did during World War II. Specifically, it cited a comment made by Japanese Health Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa in January that women are "child-bearing machines" and warned that the country has essentially remained unchanged on its stance toward women more than 60 years on.
"The Japanese government and military turned girls from the Korean peninsula and other Asian countries into sex slaves. Under the previous Human Rights Council, the United Nations sought to persecute its responsibility, but the Japanese government was backward-looking, and is even trying to deny this problem," the North Korean delegation stated. It added that "as you can see from the current health minister's statement that 'women are child-bearing machines,' there is the threat that Japan can repeat the same crime."
For their part, the Japanese media have interpreted North Korea's comments as one of a number of ways it is seeking to isolate Japan from the six-party talks that seek to denuclearize Kim Jong-Il's regime. For instance, one of the country's most influential dailies, Asahi Shimbun, reported that Pyongyang has been going out of its way to highlight how Japan's interest in the talks is different from those of South Korea, China, Russia and the United States, most notably in its demand for more information on the abduction of Japanese nationals to Pyongyang, in a bid to drive a wedge between Japan and the other countries.
Japan has insisted that unless North Korea becomes more open about the abductions, it will not take part in the initial energy aid package offered by the other members of the six-party talks in return for the regime to be more open about its nuclear capabilities. The irony of Japan calling for more transparency about the abductees even as it tries to sweep its own past under the rug appears to have been lost, at least for now. Meanwhile, Pyongyang has retaliated by saying it does not need Japan's help and instead wants Japan to apologize for its war past.
But while the Japanese media may argue that Pyongyang is deliberately trying to isolate Japan from the six-party talks, it is more likely that Japan is actually shooting itself in the foot as it clamors for more information about those 17 or so individuals abducted in the 1970s and 1980s on the one hand, while brushing aside the issue of forced wartime prostitution on the other. For one thing is clear: Both North and South Korea continue to be united when it comes to criticizing Japan for its past, most notably on the issue of women largely from China and the Korean peninsula forced into prostitution by the Japanese military during World War II, who are still referred to as "comfort women" in Japan.
Certainly, the fact that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told lawmakers earlier this month in a parliamentary session that there was "no evidence" that the military forced foreign women into prostitution has made matters only worse. Japan's militaristic past, particularly its endorsement of institutionalized rape, has remained a major obstacle for the country in furthering diplomatic ties with its neighbors, particularly in China and the Korean peninsula, where the pains of Japanese occupation were felt the deepest. But the fact that Abe denied that as many as 200,000 women were forced to become prostitutes for Japanese soldiers, and that the prime minister's office subsequently released a statement last week supporting his claims, has further fanned the flames of anger across the East Asia region.
The problem is likely to remain when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visits Tokyo next month and will most likely be an issue of major concern when Abe goes to Washington at the end of April for a meeting with President George W. Bush.