Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori said Thursday that he will defy calls for him to withdraw a controversial remark that Japan is a divine country centering on the Emperor at a press conference scheduled for this afternoon.

“As I have said before, I have no intention of doing so,” Mori told reporters at his official residence when asked if he will retract the remark during the news conference.

Opposition parties and some members of his own ruling coalition are calling on Mori to retract the remark, which critics say echoes the nationalistic fervor behind Japan’s wartime aggression.

Takenori Kanzaki, the head of coalition partner New Komeito, said he believes the prime minister should withdraw the “divine nation” remark. Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki then said Kanzaki’s comment did not necessarily mean that New Komeito wants Mori to retract the comment. “I think it was a personal view,” he said.

Mori, who faces a general election next month, called today’s news conference after an apology last week failed to quell the political storm.

Mori apologized in the Diet last week for causing “misunderstandings,” but refused to retract his comment. At a May 15 meeting of Diet members linked to Japan’s Shinto religion, Mori said, “Japan is a divine country centering on the Emperor.”

No-confidence vote

Four opposition parties agreed Thursday to jointly submit a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s Cabinet to the House of Representatives next Wednesday over his “divine nation” remarks, opposition bloc officials said.

The secretaries general of the Democratic Party of Japan, the Japanese Communist Party, the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party met Thursday morning in the Diet building and agreed that their parties will make “final arrangements” on the schedule of the motion, they said.

The secretaries general also agreed that their parties will make arrangements for joint submission of a censure motion against the prime minister to the House of Councilors on Tuesday, they said.

The four parties agreed Tuesday to jointly submit the motions over the controversial remark but had not decided on the timing.

The JCP and the Liberal Party said the parties should expedite proposing the motions, but the DPJ preferred submitting the no-confidence motion after Tuesday next week, when a memorial speech for the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi is scheduled to be delivered in the Diet, they said.

The secretaries general criticized Mori for planning to explain the remark not in the Diet but during a press conference today, accusing the him of “making light of the Diet,” an official said.

After the meeting they met Lower House Speaker Soichiro Ito to ask the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to agree to hold a Diet “question time” between Mori and the party leaders to discuss the issue, the officials said.