Finance Minister Taro Aso on Tuesday repeated a controversial statement that appeared to downplay an incident of alleged sexual harassment by his ministry's top bureaucrat, just a day after his earlier comments sparked protest demonstrations in a number of cities across the nation.

"There is no such thing as a sexual harassment charge," the 77-year-old former prime minister said at a regular news conference — the same remark he made Friday during a trip to Manila.

The statement, which appeared to make light of claims that then-Administrative Vice Finance Minister Junichi Fukuda had repeatedly made sexually suggestive comments to a TV reporter, has drawn sharp reactions from women's rights activists, with some calling it misogynistic and permissive of sexual harassment. Asked by reporters about such public criticism, Aso, who doubles as deputy prime minister, said he had "merely stated a fact" while adding he has no intention of tolerating sexual harassment. Perpetrators of sexual harassment can be charged with sexual assault, rape or libel in Japan.