Japan's farm minister quits in new blow for Abe

Japan's farm minister resigned Monday over a scandal, dealing a fresh blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe just a week after he reshuffled his cabinet in the hope of cleaning up the government's image.

Japan's farm minister quits in new blow for Abe
Japan's farm minister resigned Monday over a scandal, dealing a fresh blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe just a week after he reshuffled his cabinet in the hope of cleaning up the government's image.

Ending the shortest tenure in memory for a Japanese minister, Takehiko Endo submitted his resignation amid threats by an emboldened opposition to raise his financial wrongdoing in parliament.

Endo took office exactly a week ago in a reshuffle by Abe, who had begun to see his government's approval ratings rebound after a stinging election rebuke following a raft of earlier scandals.

"I apologise that I could not meet the expectations of Prime Minister Abe, who had tried to renew public sentiment to pursue reforms," Endo told reporters.

Abe said he felt responsible for choosing Endo but repeated that he would stay in his job.

"I am entirely responsible for the appointment," Abe said. "Although it was a disappointing outcome, I want to carry out my responsibilities by making the utmost efforts to prevent any delays in farming policy."

But adding to Abe's embarrassment, the new vice foreign minister, Yukiko Sakamoto, also said she would quit over duplicating receipts reported by an office of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

"The LDP is going to collapse unless we don't act urgently to rehabilitate ourselves," ruling party lawmaker Masazumi Gotoda said.

Endo, 68, a veteran lawmaker with a distinctive bald head, admitted a group he heads to help farmers in his district padded its membership to get extra government help in 1999.

Separately, he said his campaign office accepted a small prohibited donation from a farming cooperative.

He becomes the fifth minister to quit the cabinet, other than in the reshuffle, since Abe took office nearly a year ago.

Abe has had particularly bad luck with farm ministers, with one committing suicide under a cloud of corruption allegations and a second one embroiled in scandals that contributed to the election defeat.

The centre-left opposition, with backing from farmers who were long a steadfast LDP base, seized control of the upper house in July elections for the first time since the conservative ruling party was founded in 1955.

The opposition had threatened a symbolic censure motion against Endo.

Yukio Hatoyama, a senior leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, warned that the upper house may now take up a censure motion against the premier himself.

"The issue arises of his responsibility as he picked a person he shouldn't have," Hatoyama said of Abe. "In the upper house, we want to consider the issue of a censure motion against the prime minister."

Abe had hoped to focus on other legislative priorities.

He is struggling to persuade the opposition to drop objections to extending a controversial Indian Ocean naval mission backing US-led forces in Afghanistan.

Abe had stacked his new cabinet with political veterans in hopes of avoiding the scandals of his first government.

With a high-profile resignation so soon, Takayoshi Shibata, professor emeritus at Tokyo Keizai University, predicted that pressure would grow for Abe to call a general election.

"The string of incidents is really staggering," he said. "It's beyond description."

Former environment minister Masatoshi Wakabayashi will replace Endo, Wakabayashi's office said.

The liberal Asahi Shimbun, which often spars with Abe, said in an editorial that the LDP "just can't get rid of suspicions and scandals, no matter how carefully it tries to choose its cabinet ministers."

AP
Last Mod: 03 Eylül 2007, 12:51
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