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Cabinet Spokesman Retaliates For French Premier’s Remarks

July 18, 1991 GMT

TOKYO (AP) _ Never mind that French Prime Minister Edith Cresson sees Japanese as worker ″ants″ who don’t know how to enjoy life. Any student of ″Aesop’s Fables″ knows ants have the last laugh, a senior Japanese politician says.

″I suppose (she) wanted to stress the French point of view,″ Cabinet spokesman Misoji Sakamoto said at a news conference Wednesday, ″but it’s no good to make such one-sided observations.″

Besides, he said, ″ants are better than grasshoppers, and that has always been true, as Aesop’s Fables say.″

The grasshopper of Aesop’s Fables is too lazy to stock up on food for winter and dies from hunger. The diligent ants prepare in advance and survive the cold season happily.

The prime minister’s office said Sakamoto’s comment was not made seriously, but the mass-circulation newspaper Mainichi Shimbun interpreted it as strongly sarcastic.

In a television interview with ABC’s ″PrimeTime Live,″ for broadcast Thursday, Mrs. Cresson reiterated a view she had stated earlier of the Japanese:

″They work like ants. ... We don’t want to live like that. ... We want to keep our social security, our holidays, and we want to live like human beings.″

The next victim of Japanese workaholics, she said, will be Europe.

Sakamoto stressed that Japanese are not ″just ants″ but are willing to work hard to contribute to the world.

″I realize (Mrs. Cresson) often says that sort of thing,″ he said.

Mrs. Cresson’s scathing remarks against the Japanese have earned her a fearsome reputation here since she took office two months ago.

In her first week in office in May, Japan’s Foreign Ministry summoned the French ambassador and officially complained about Mrs. Cresson’s statement that ″Japan is another universe that wants to conquer. That’s the way they are,″ At that time, Mrs. Cresson was also quoted as calling the Japanese ″ants.″

Last Sunday, on the French national holiday Bastille Day, rightists beheaded Mrs. Cresson in effigy.

″Retract your arrogant remarks,″ nearly 30 demonstrators yelled. ″We are not little yellow ants.″

After the demonstration in a downtown Tokyo park, they marched to the French Embassy, where they shouted anti-Cresson slogans and scuffled with police. There were no injuries or arrests.