Japan justice minister quits

2012-10-23 12:27
Japan Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. (File, AP)

Japan Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. (File, AP)

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Tokyo - Japan's justice minister quit on Tuesday because of ill health, a cabinet official said, after calls for his resignation over past ties to an organised crime syndicate, dealing another blow to unpopular Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

Keishu Tanaka, 74, only became justice minister in a cabinet reshuffle on 1 October, and his resignation is the second by a minister since Noda took office in September 2011.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a news conference that Tanaka stepped down for health reasons.

The resignation came a day after Tanaka left a Tokyo hospital where he had checked in on Friday with chest pains, irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure.

The health problems followed days of calls for his resignation after a magazine report linked him to the Yakuza organised crime syndicate.

Tanaka said he acted as a matchmaker at a mobster's wedding and attended a party thrown by the head of a crime group about 30 years ago, explaining that he was not aware of the groom's mob connections or the nature of the event at the time.

Tanaka has also admitted shortly after his appointment that his party branch accepted 420 000 yen ($5 300) in donations from a company run by a foreigner between 2006 and 2009. Accepting funds from foreign nationals is illegal if done so knowingly.

Tanaka's office said he had returned all of the money, according to media.

"The resignation is likely to further weaken Noda's support within his party. Obviously, it will become more difficult for him to exert leadership," said Mikitaka Masuyama, professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.

Falling public support

"But it is uncertain whether this could be a trigger for an early election ... Given falling public support for the government, there is no benefit in him dissolving parliament and calling snap election at the moment."

Noda promised in August to hold an election "soon" as part of negotiations with the opposition on a plan to raise sales tax.

The Tanaka scandal is the latest in a string of setbacks for Noda, the ruling Democrats' third prime minister in as many years, who is expected to lose the next election.

In September last year, days after Noda formed his government, then Trade Minister Yoshio Hachiro quit over comments about radiation following a visit to the Fukushima region, scene of a nuclear plant accident following an earthquake and tsunami in March that year.

Government policy-making has stalled since the parliament session ended last month, with the opposition blocking legislation in a split parliament to try and force an early election.

Noda's ruling party has decided to convene an extra session of parliament from 29 October to try to pass a bill needed to cover nearly half the government's budget spending, setting the stage for another showdown with the opposition.

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