22/01/2013 08:38 GMT | Updated 22/01/2013 09:31 GMT

Japan's Deputy Prime Minister, Taro Aso, Says Old People Should 'Hurry Up And Die'

Japan's deputy prime minister has been forced to apologise for saying old people should "hurry up and die" to unburden the nation's economy.

Taro Aso, who is 72, also called people with serious illnesses "tube persons", reports Japan's Kyodo News.

At a meeting of the National Council on Social Security Reforms on Monday, Aso said: "Heaven forbid if you are forced to live on when you want to die.

Aso has a long history of gaffes

"I would wake up feeling increasingly bad knowing that [treatment] was all being paid for by the government.

"The problem won't be solved unless you let them hurry up and die."

Aso's less than delicate comments will be keenly felt in a country where nearly a quarter of the 128 million population are over the age of 60.

The deputy PM later defended his comments. He said: "I said what I personally believe, not what the end-of-life medical care system should be.

"It is important that you be able spend the final days of your life peacefully," reports the Guardian.

Aso is known for his forthright way with words.

In 2001, he said Japan should become the kind of successful country in which "the richest Jews would want to live" and blamed America's inability to solve the problems of the Middle East on their "blonde hair and blue eyes".

He has also described China as a "considerable threat" because the country is "one billion people equipped with nuclear bombs".