TOKYO  - Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Friday defended the use of the death penalty, a day after three multiple murderers were executed. It was the first time Japan, which apart from the United States is the only major industrialised democracy to carry out capital punishment, had used the death penalty in 20 months. "There is no change to our policy not to abolish the death penalty," Noda told a press conference. "We have judged that it is difficult to immediately abolish the death penalty, considering the current situation where the number of violent crimes does not fall and crimes continue," he said.

The convicts were hanged on Thursday on the orders of the justice minister, who said he was acting in line with public opinion, which overwhelmingly supports the death penalty.

Noda stood by the decision, saying the system receives up to 85 percent Japanese public approval.

France urged Japan to impose a moratorium on the death penalty and said the executions "were even more regrettable because they occurred after Japan had not applied the death penalty for more than a year and a half".