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Opposition leaders expressed readiness Sunday to continue seeking a retraction of the “divine nation” remark made by Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and his explanations about the remark at the Diet.

Speaking in a roundtable discussion on a TV progrm, Kazuo Shii, chief of the Japanese Communist Party’s secretariat, said that while Mori has apologized for the remark, he has yet to admit it was a mistake.

“Mori is trying to evade a Diet debate. He merely glossed over the remark by holding a news conference,” said Hiroshi Kumagai, acting secretary general of the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party.

Hidenao Nakagawa, acting secretary general of Mori’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, defended the prime minister, saying he virtually retracted the remark at the news conference.

They were referring to a news conference held Friday by Mori to explain the remark he made earlier this month.

At a May 15 meeting of like-minded Diet members linked to the Shinto religion, Mori said, “Japan is a divine country with the Emperor at its center.”

Mori apologized for the statement at the Friday news conference but refused to retract it, saying he saw no reason to do so because the problem was caused by the expression he used, not the content.

Opposition parties have said Mori’s remark runs counter to the principles of democracy and the separation of politics and religion expressed in the Constitution.

They have asked the LDP to agree to hold a parliamentary “question time” between Mori and the leaders of opposition parties and Diet sessions to discuss the issue.

Meanwhile, former LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato said in Shizuoka Prefecture that Mori’s “devine nation” remark should be raised as a main issue to be judged by voters in the upcoming general election in June.

“Prime Minister Mori should conduct a thorough debate with the opposition parties over this issue in the Diet and in a TV discussion program, so that the Japanese people can make a judgement,” he said.