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Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Kyuma exits over A-bomb gaffe
Embattled Abe names Koike new defense chief
Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma handed in his resignation to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday, three days after making remarks derided as justifying the U.S. atomic bombings of Japan.
Later in the day, Abe tapped Yuriko Koike, his national security adviser, to replace Kyuma as defense chief. Koike will officially take up the job after an attestation ceremony Wednesday afternoon.
"(Kyuma) made a grave decision as a politician and a Cabinet minister," Abe told reporters. "I respect his decision."
Kyuma's resignation comes as the already beleaguered Abe prepares to lead his Liberal Democratic Party into the July 29 House of Councilors election.
Opinion polls over the past few days have shown Abe's approval ratings dipping to record lows in the wake of the government's pension record-keeping debacle, a Cabinet minister's suicide and other scandals, including the defense chief's latest gaffe.
"People do not seem to understand no matter how I explain my remarks," Kyuma said after he visited Abe's official residence to tell the prime minister of his decision to resign. "So I've decided to step down because I have to take responsibility."
He also said he was leaving the Cabinet to minimize the damage to the LDP so close to election time.
In a speech Saturday in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, Kyuma, a Lower House member elected from the Nagasaki No. 2 district, said: "I understand the bombing (in Nagasaki) brought the war to its end. I think it was something that couldn't be helped."
Kyuma apologized and retracted the remarks the following day, and Abe issued a stern warning to him Monday while rejecting the opposition's calls for Kyuma's ouster.
But critics were unappeased and pressure emerged even from within the ruling bloc to cut Kyuma loose.
Protesters staged a sit-in Monday at Nagasaki Peace Park, near ground zero, to denounce Kyuma's remarks. In a rare move, Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue visited Kyuma at the Defense Ministry on Tuesday morning to protest his comments.
Also in the morning, Toshiko Hamayotsu, deputy chief of New Komeito, the junior partner in Abe's ruling coalition, implied that Kyuma should resign.
Using the telltale call for a resignation, Hamayotsu said, "Mr. Kyuma should be aware of what he has said and decide his own course."
Media forecasts predict that the ruling camp, burdened by Abe's falling popularity, will have a tough time retaining its majority in the Upper House.
In a news conference at the Defense Ministry, Kyuma denied that he meant in his Saturday speech to imply that the U.S. was justified in dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Kyuma became Japan's first defense minister when the Defense Agency was upgraded to a ministry in January. The same month, he angered Washington when he said President George W. Bush had made a "wrong" decision by starting the war in Iraq. He also criticized the United States over its handling of a plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa.
Kyuma is the second minister to resign from Abe's Cabinet since its formation in September. Genichiro Sata quit as minister in charge of administrative reforms over an accounting scandal in December.
In late May, agriculture minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka committed suicide after being grilled over the questionable accounting of one of his political funding groups and a bid-rigging scandal threatened to envelop him.
In announcing Abe's choice of Koike as the new defense chief, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said the LDP House of Representatives member was tapped due to her experience of serving as adviser on foreign and national security affairs since Abe took office.
The opposition parties said Kyuma's resignation was unavoidable. Yukio Hatoyama, secretary general of the Democratic Party of Japan, said Abe also bears responsibility for appointing Kyuma in the first place.
Information from Kyodo added