Japan's Finance Minister “Stumbles” at G7, Quits

TOKYOFinance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa said Tuesday he would step down to take the blame for his unusual behavior at a weekend Group of Seven press conference in Rome, delivering another blow to struggling Prime Minister Taro Aso.

Aso has decided to appoint Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Kaoru Yosano as Nakagawa's successor so Yosano will double as finance minister, government sources said.

At a hastily called press conference in Tokyo after he visited a doctor for a medical check, Nakagawa, one of the closest allies of the premier, said he would resign after the fiscal 2009 budget and related bills clear the Diet, which is expected in March or April.

"I was told by Prime Minister Aso to do my best until the passage (of the bills)," he said.

"My doctor told me I am suffering from a cold and fatigue," Nakagawa said, adding he had "apologized for having caused a great deal of trouble to the prime minister and other people concerned" by not taking good enough care of his health.

The Democratic Party of Japan-led opposition camp, meanwhile, submitted a censure motion Tuesday afternoon against the outgoing minister, seeking his immediate resignation.

"We cannot continue deliberations with the minister who has announced that he 'would resign soon,'" Azuma Koshiishi, head of the DPJ's House of Councillors caucus, said.

Naoto Kan, acting president of the DPJ, also railed against Nakagawa, saying, "He doesn't know how to resign. It's horrible."

Nakagawa slurred his words and sometimes closed his eyes at a news conference that followed a G-7 financial leaders' meeting in the Italian capital. Footage showing what appeared to be drunken behavior was aired around the world.

Was Japan's Finance Minister Drunk?

He said his wobbly performance was caused mainly by jet lag and the intake of too much cold medicine, brushing aside speculation that he was under the influence of alcohol at that time.

But Nakagawa also admitted Monday that he sipped wine at a luncheon before attending the news conference. His fondness for drink is well-known in Japanese political circles.

He soon faced a barrage of criticism from not just the opposition parties but also within the ruling bloc. An Liberal Democratic Party executive even said to Kyodo News Tuesday that Nakagawa "should resign in the course of today."

Despite being under fire, Nakagawa had said earlier Tuesday that he would remain in his post. He said he would "make a final decision (on whether to step down) after hearing various opinions and the premier's judgment."

Nakagawa made the decision to step down in a bid to minimize the repercussions of the scandal on the Aso administration and avert a further decline in the premier's support ratings ahead of a general election that must be held by the fall.

But one LDP upper house lawmaker said his planned resignation would tatter the already fragile unity in the ruling party anyway and "this will be it for the Aso administration."

Nakagawa's blunder at the G-7 meeting was not the first. He made as many as 26 errors in reading his policy speech at the House of Representatives in late January.

Nakagawa is the second minister of Aso's Cabinet to step down following Nariaki Nakayama who was forced to resign as transport minister soon after the launch of the Cabinet last September.

The G-7 groups Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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