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Takeo Hiranuma, head of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, apologized Tuesday for earlier stating that Japan’s sovereign bonds are improperly rated because they are ranked below those of Botswana, where a large portion of the population has AIDS.

The controversial remark came Sunday when Hiranuma criticized Moody’s Investors Service Inc., a U.S. credit rating agency, for downgrading Japan’s sovereign credit rating to a notch lower than that of the southern African country.

As a reason for criticizing the rating, Hiranuma said “about half” of the population in Botswana suffers from the disease.

“I must withdraw this part of my speech and sincerely apologize for those who feel displeasure (at my remark),” Hiranuma told a regular news conference.

He stressed that, by the remark, he did not mean to express prejudice against people suffering from the disease or against the country of Botswana.

Hiranuma said that he made the remark as an “objective fact,” though the actual percentage of AIDS patients in Botswana’s population is “more than 38 percent,” instead of “about half.”

Among Botswana people between the ages of 15 and 49, 35.8 percent are HIV-positive, according to statistics compiled by the United Nations.

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