Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto was forced to apologize for suggesting US servicemen patronize legal prostitution to curb violent sex crimes in Okinawa.

“I must apologize to the US military and American people and retract my comment at the Monday press conference,” the outspoken politician said on Saturday.

Hashimoto, who leads the nationalist Japan Restoration Party, had suggested US soldiers visit legal sex businesses on Okinawa to vent their sexual energy, triggering criticism from Washington. The US State Department called his remarks “outrageous and offensive”.

“My choice of words was inappropriate,” Hashimoto said. “The word ‘sex business’ was inappropriate”.

But Hashimoto said he has no intention of retracting his comments that “comfort women” served a “necessary” role during the World War II, reports AFP.

He only said his remarks were misinterpreted. “I happen to have used the word “necessity” but it doesn’t mean I personally meant it was “necessary,” he said. “I meant that it is a historical truth that soldiers were using women. Was it not necessary for them?”

Women groups “strongly” protests against Hashimoto’s comments and have demanded an apology from him.