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Key figure in Japan ruling party calls Americans 'simple-minded'

TOKYO (AP) — A key figure in Japan's ruling party dubbed Americans "simple-minded" in a speech to fellow lawmakers Wednesday.

It was not clear what prompted the remarks by Democratic Party heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa at a political seminar, in which he otherwise paid tribute to Americans' commitment to democracy, saying it was something Japan should learn from.

"I like Americans, but they are somewhat monocellular," the former Democratic Party leader said. "When I talk with Americans, I often wonder why they are so simple-minded."

Ozawa didn't elaborate on what aspect of Americans made him compare them monocellular organisms, a term also used to mean shortsighted or dumb.

There is growing speculation that the 68-year-old former party leader — renowned as a backroom dealer and election strategist but unpopular among the wider public — may run against rival Prime Minister Naoto Kan in a Sept. 14 election for the party leadership.

Ozawa steered clear of that topic in his speech at the seminar to about 50 lawmakers from the party and dozens of other invitees. But later Wednesday he hinted he would, telling supporters his decision on whether to run would hopefully "respond to your expectations." He said he needed more time to make that decision.

Ozawa was forced to resign as party secretary-general in early June over a funding scandal, though he has denied any wrongdoing.

Despite the Democratic Party-led government's monthslong tussle with Washington over the planned relocation of a major U.S. military base in Okinawa — which has weakened public support for the government — Tokyo and Washington remain close allies, and Ozawa's comments on Americans did not appear geared at currying support within the party.

Ozawa, who advocates a U.S.-style two-party political system for Japan — which currently has a coalition government — praised Americans for electing President Barack Obama.

"I don't think Americans are very smart, but I give extremely high credit for democracy and choices by its people," he said. "They chose a black president for the first time in U.S. history," adding that he thought once that would never be possible.