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Japanese FM quits over ‘drunk’ allegation

Nakagawa has been under fire over allegations he appeared to be drunk at a news conference following G-7 finance ministers meeting in Rome.

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso’s already shaky government was rocked Tuesday by the sudden resignation of his finance minister over allegations he appeared drunk after a recent summit.

Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa,who has denied being drunk,said he will quit after parliament approves a supplementary budget,probably in late April.

The announcement Tuesday was a huge embarrassment for Aso,who the day before had asked Nakagawa to stay on. Economy Minister Kaoru Yosano will assume Nakagawa’s duties,Kyodo News agency reported.

“I apologize for causing such a big fuss,” Nakagawa said.

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Nakagawa has been under fire over allegations he appeared to be drunk at a news conference following the G-7 finance ministers meeting in Rome over the weekend. TV footage showed him slurring his speech and looking drowsy and confused.

Nakagawa has said he took cold medicine,which,along with the jet lag,made him groggy.

His abrupt announcement was seen as an attempt at damage control,but some analysts said they expect the situation to get tougher for Aso in the weeks ahead.

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“The scandal was so humiliating that Nakagawa’s resignation will not be enough,” said political analyst Minoru Morita. “The opposition will now shift their target to Aso,pushing him deeper into the corner.”

Opposition lawmakers,meanwhile,lodged a censure motion against Nakagawa and demanded he quit immediately.

“I don’t understand why he has to wait until budget approval,” said Higashi Koshiishi,a leader of the main opposition group,the Democratic Party of Japan. “And we will by all means question Prime Minister Aso’s responsibility over (Nakagawa’s) appointment.”

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Pressure for Nakagawa’s resignation was growing within Aso’s Cabinet as well.

“The TV footage was shocking,” Consumer Minister Seiko Noda said. “A Cabinet minister must be fit and he needs more self control.”

Along with a moribund economy and increasing joblessness,the scandal was the latest in a series of embarrassments that have plagued Aso,who has been in office only since late September.

Aso’s support ratings fell into the single digits in a recent poll,increasing speculation Aso’s days might be numbered.

Elections must be held by the end of September,but can be called at any time.

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Several polls suggest that the opposition has a good shot at winning if elections are held soon,although the Liberal Democrats have controlled the government for virtually all of the past 54 years.

“If elections were held right now,the opposition would win,” said Takao Toshikawa,another political analyst.

First published on: 17-02-2009 at 03:47:40 pm
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