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Japanese trade minister quits over gaffes
Yoshio Hachiro resigns after just eight days in office, following comments deemed as insensitive.
Last Modified: 10 Sep 2011 14:00
Hachiro's resignation came a day before Japan was to mark six months since the March 11 quake and tsunami [AFP]

Japan's trade minister has resigned, after just eight days in office, following two separate incidents where comments he made were deemed to be inappropriate and insensitive.

Yoshio Hachiro announced his departure at a news conference late on Saturday, apologising repeatedly for calling the evacuated area around the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant "a town of death".

This came a day before Japan was to mark six months since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which left 20,000 dead or missing and sparked the nuclear crisis at Fukushima.

People affected by the disasters, political opponents and even members of the ruling Democrats strongly criticised Hachiro's remark made on visit to the plant with other government ministers on Thursday.

Hachiro told reporters he was just trying to convey the seriousness of the situation when he made the statement. But his words were seen as particularly outrageous because the government cannot provide evacuated residents with a firm timetable for their return, and has been criticised for how it has handled the crisis.

Following that incident, reports then emerged that Hachiro had joked inappropriately with a reporter about radiation from the crippled plant, Japanese media reported.

Hachiro had attempted to rub up against the journalist saying "I'll give you radiation" after the visit to the Fukushima plant on Thursday, local media said.

Major embarrassment

The trade minister's departure is a major embarrassment for Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who took office and installed a new cabinet on September 2 amid hopes a new government could better tackle recovery efforts from the disasters.

Opposition party leaders said that they would press Noda over his responsibility for appointing Hachiro, NHK public TV reported.

He took over as Japan's sixth prime minister in five years replacing the administration of Naoto Kan, who resigned amid heavy criticism of his handling of the crisis.

Noda will face harsh questioning over his appointment of Hachiro and other novice ministers in a session of parliament expected to begin next week. Out of Noda's 17-member cabinet, 10 including Hachiro were newcomers to ministerial posts.

The prime minister, who won a bruising battle to become head of the ruling Democratic Party, had pledged to boost recovery efforts but the early resignation of one of his cabinet ministers will do little to instill confidence.

Tens of thousands remain evacuated from homes, farms and businesses in a 20km radius around the Fukushima plant and in some pockets beyond.

The government has been slammed by activists and scientists who say the evacuation zone is too small and does not account for unpredictable radiation fallout patterns.

Source:
Agencies
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