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Japanese Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso. Photo by AFP
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A leading Japanese government minister Thursday retracted a statement that had been widely interpreted as praising Hitler's scrapping of Germany's pre-World War II Weimar constitution.

“Germany’s Weimar Constitution was changed before anyone noticed," Japan's Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso was quoted as saying during an address to a conservative think tank earlier in the week. "It was changed before anyone was aware. Why don’t we learn from that technique.”

The subject of the speech was constitutional revision and observers interpreted Aso's words as suggesting that Tokyo should take Nazi Germany as a model in changing its pacifist constitution.

In its day, the Weimar constitution was regarded as the most progressive in Europe.

On Thursday, Aso said his intention had been to seek a calm and in-depth debate on the constitution. He said he wanted to avoid the kind of turmoil that he said helped Hitler change the democratic constitution established by Germany's Weimar government after World War I.

"I pointed to the changes to the Weimar constitution made under the Nazi regime as a bad example of changes made without a substantial debate or understanding by the citizens," Aso told reporters on Thursday. 

"I invited misunderstanding as a result and I would like to withdraw the statement in which I cited the Nazi regime as an example," he said. 

The original statement by the gaffe-prone Aso, who previously served as prime minister, was criticized by South Korea and China, both of which suffered under Japanese militarism in the past, and Jewish human rights groups.