TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Many Japanese were angered by the South Korean National Assembly speaker's recent remarks seeking an apology from Emperor Akihito to end a bilateral row over women forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Wednesday.
"I believe many Japanese people felt anger and surprise. It is extremely deplorable that the speaker repeated similar remarks," Abe said at a parliamentary committee in reference to Moon Hee Sang's words over the "comfort women" issue reported by U.S. media last week.
Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Tokyo has lodged protests with Seoul and demanded an apology as well as a withdrawal of the comments five times since Moon's interview with Bloomberg News last Thursday.
In the interview, Moon said, "If a person like that (Emperor Akihito) holds the hands of the elderly (former comfort women) and says he's really sorry, then that one word will resolve matters once and for all."
On Monday in Washington, Moon reiterated the need for an apology from "a leader in a responsible position in Japan" to South Korean media.
According to Yonhap News Agency, Moon said Tuesday he "cannot understand at all" Abe's protest at his remarks and rejected Tokyo's demand for an apology.
The two countries reached an agreement in 2015 aimed at settling the comfort women issue "finally and irreversibly," with Tokyo funding a foundation designed to help the victims.
But a new government in Seoul has since revisited the deal, concluding it could not settle the long-standing issue as it failed to reflect the opinions of surviving victims. The South Korean government also said last November it will dissolve the foundation.
"Bilateral ties cannot continue if a promise between countries was overturned by a change of government," Abe said.
Kono said, "I hope South Korea will deal with the matter in a sincere manner" in response to Japan's repeated requests for an apology and withdrawal of the comments.
The speaker's remarks have drawn ire from Japan at a time when bilateral ties are already hurt by disputes over wartime issues as well as a row over a South Korean navy vessel's alleged locking of fire-control radar on a Japanese patrol plane in December.
The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.