The 1993 statement admitted the military's role in setting up the brothels and said many women were taken to them against their will but was never ratified by parliament.

Last week, Abe triggered protests across Asia when he said that comfort women were not forced into sexual slavery "in the strict sense of coercion".

On Thursday he said that he "basically stands by the 1993 apology" but this is unlikely to satisfy calls for a new apology.

Apology demanded

Qin Gang, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said the issue affects Japan's international image, and that Japan's "proper solution" of historical issues was important to improve China-Japan relations.
   
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"The whole world should show Japan distaste for such inhumane declarations that exacerbate and renew pains of the surviving victims"

Adolfo Talpalar, Stockholm, Sweden

 

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"We hope Japan can show courage and take a responsible attitude toward history, toward people and toward its future to treat seriously righteous voices from the international community and to properly handle this issue left over from history," he said ahead of an expected visit to Tokyo by Wen Jiabao, the Chinese prime minister.

In addition to China, North and South Korea expressed outrage over Abe's recent remarks and Taiwan called on Tokyo to apologise and offer compensation.

The US congress has also been considering a resolution demanding a formal apology from Japan for its wartime treatment of the women.

Historians say as many as 200,000 women - mostly from Korea, China, Southeast Asia and Japan - worked in the Japanese military brothels throughout Asia in the 1930s and 1940s.

Defence documents have shown that the military had a direct role in running the brothels, and v
ictims, witnesses and former soldiers have said women and girls were kidnapped to serve as prostitutes.