Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, under fire for denying that Japan forced women to work as sex slaves during World War II, offered a new apology Monday for the front line military brothels.
"I apologize here and now as prime minister," Abe told a parliamentary committee, according to his spokesman Hiroshi Suzuki.
Thousands of Asian women — mostly from Korea and China — worked in the frontline brothels, and estimates run as high as 200,000. Victims say they were forced into the brothels by the Japanese military and were held against their will.
But Abe denied earlier this month there was any evidence that the women were coerced into sexual service, reflecting views of conservative academics and politicians here who argue that the women were professional prostitutes and were paid for their services.
Abe's denial drew intense criticism from Beijing and Seoul, which accuse Tokyo of failing to fully atone for wartime invasions and atrocities.
The issue also has stirred debate in the United States, where a committee in the House of Representatives is considering a nonbinding resolution calling on Tokyo to fully acknowledge wrongdoing and make an unambiguous apology.
Abe had said previously he would not offer an apology, however, saying Tokyo expressed its remorse in a 1993 statement on the matter by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono.