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Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2009

Aso won't fire 'drunk' Nakagawa


Staff writer

Prime Minister Taro Aso refused Monday to fire Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa for his unusual behavior Saturday after a Group of Seven meeting which has led opposition parties to call for his dismissal.

News photo
Medicinal: Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa speaks after the G7 meeting in Rome on Saturday. KYODO PHOTO

Nakagawa slurred his speech, at times appeared half asleep and had trouble answering questions from reporters during a news conference in Rome.

His behavior sparked speculation he may have been drunk, as rumors have long circulated that he is a heavy drinker.

The Democratic Party of Japan planned to submit a censure motion against Nakagawa as early as Tuesday for his "disgraceful behavior."

The motion is expected to pass the opposition-controlled Upper House and deal yet another blow to Prime Minister Taro Aso's Cabinet, which is already reeling from plummeting approval rates.

Nakagawa denied he was drunk during the news conference, saying instead he had taken too much cold medicine.

"I took various cold medicines and had a bit more than usual on the plane," Nakagawa said Monday.

Later in the day, he met with Aso and apologized for his embarrassing behavior, which was repeatedly aired by national TV stations and reported by overseas news media.

"Granted, the jet lag from a 15-hour flight isn't easy to overcome, but when your nation's economy is predicted to contract by 2.5 percent, as per the IMF, and its biggest automakers like Toyota and Nissan are slashing jobs by tens of thousands, that should be enough to keep you awake," wrote ABC News reporter Matt Jaffe on the U.S. program's Web site.

"If not, there's always that time-honored Italian stimulus: espresso."

Aso told reporters he appreciates the work that Nakagawa, one of his known allies, has been doing as a Cabinet minister.

"As for my responsibility of appointing (Nakagawa), I am grateful that he has surely been doing his job," Aso said.

He refused to answer whether he would sack Nakagawa if a censure motion against him is passed in the Upper House.

Nakagawa stressed he had just sipped a glass of wine during a toast at the G7 luncheon but claimed he "did not drink it."

Nakagawa, who shares many conservative opinions with Aso, is one of the prime minister's closest political friends.



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