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Retracting comments made earlier by his government, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori admitted during Tuesday’s Diet session that a controversial proposal for finding Japanese nationals allegedly abducted by North Korean agents was not merely the personal opinion of a ruling party lawmaker.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hidenao Nakagawa, who said Monday the plan was an expression of “personal opinion” from Masaaki Nakayama, a member of Mori’s Liberal Democratic Party, also said at a news conference later Tuesday that his own comment “was inappropriate.”

The moves followed fierce protests from Nakayama, who even called Mori and his aides “liars,” prompting the prime minister to modify his draft statement in the Diet.

The latest confusion within the LDP comes as a new twist following Mori’s revelation of a secret proposal to North Korea in 1997 regarding the abduction of Japanese nationals, prompting attacks from both the opposition and within his own party.

The opposition parties, for their part, blasted Mori for revealing the proposal — intended to enable the return of Japanese believed to have been abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s — to British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Seoul on Friday.

“I am afraid Mori lacks the quality of a prime minister,” Liberal Party member Takeshi Hidaka said at a Lower House session, urging him to step down.

Zenmei Matsumoto, of the Japanese Communist Party, said, “This is a grave problem that raises doubts about the Japanese government’s diplomatic capabilities.”

Kiyomi Tsujimoto, of the Social Democratic Party of Japan, criticized Mori for disclosing a diplomatically delicate issue to the prime minister of a third country.

Mori replied: “I thought it was important for Japan’s North Korean policy to have the prime minister of Britain — which is about to establish diplomatic ties with North Korea — fully understand the seriousness and difficulty of this (abduction) problem.”

He also stated that the proposal to treat the abductees as missing people had already been disclosed by a coalition mission three years ago and therefore is not a secret.

The turmoil began Friday when Mori revealed to Blair that the ruling coalition’s mission to North Korea suggested in 1997 that Pyongyang return the suspected 10 Japanese abductees by pretending they had gone missing in other countries, meaning it could avoid admitting it had kidnapped them.

Ahead of his meetings with Mori and Nakagawa on Tuesday, Nakayama told reporters furiously, “I came here to pick a fight with the trio of liars,” referring to Mori, Nakagawa and Shinzo Abe, a deputy chief Cabinet secretary, who contacted him recently.

Nakayama said that although he was not consulted in advance with other mission members about his proposal, he officially presented the idea and no one complained about it later.

“It is outrageous that they tried to avoid trouble” by sacrificing him, he said.

Nakagawa denies link

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hidenao Nakagawa on Tuesday again denied having links with a rightist figure as alleged in a recent magazine article.

Nakagawa, who repeated the denial at a plenary session of the Lower House, was responding to an article that appeared in last week’s edition of the weekly Focus magazine, which carried an undated photograph of Nakagawa sitting face to face with the man at a Japanese restaurant.

“I may have happened to share a table with the person in question during many years of my political career . . . But I cannot remember him even if I try hard to search through my memory,” Nakagawa claimed, adding that he had not intended to make a false statement when he told the Diet earlier that he had never met the person.

The man, identified in the article as vice chairman of a Tokyo-based rightist group, sent a content-certified letter to Nakagawa’s office in October 1996, in which he questioned Nakagawa about his alleged extramarital relationship with a Tokyo hostess five years ago.

The man is believed to have been one of the hostess’s customers.

Nakagawa’s alleged love affair came to light when the hostess in question recently revealed the story to a weekly magazine. Nakagawa has maintained that he knew neither the hostess nor the rightist, who also reportedly claimed that Nakagawa used illegal drugs while with the hostess between 1994 and 1995.

Opposition lawmakers also hit the ruling party over allegations it received up to 200 million yen a year disguised as party membership fees from the scandal-tainted mutual aid organization KSD between 1991 and 1999.

Chuji Ito of the Democratic Party of Japan claimed that the KSD scandal showed the LDP is in bed with business leaders and bureaucrats.

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori replied that the case is being handled by investigation authorities and that the LDP will not take any particular action on its own.

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