Japan Reconstruction Minister Ryu Matsumoto quits

BBC's Roland Buerk: "Ryu Matsumoto's remarks were seen as high handed and offensive"

Japan's Minister for Reconstruction Ryu Matsumoto has announced his resignation after just a week in the job.

He had been widely criticised for making insensitive remarks to governors of areas badly affected by March's deadly earthquake and tsunami.

He had said the government would not help them financially unless they came up with good rebuilding proposals.

The resignation will increase pressure on Prime Minister Naoto Kan's already unpopular government.

The appointment of Mr Matsumoto to the newly created post of disaster reconstruction minister was seen as an effort to deflect further criticism of Mr Kan's administration.

Last month, Mr Kan survived a no-confidence motion brought by MPs critical of his handling of the reconstruction process following the quake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Mr Kan, who is just over a year into his post, vowed to step down soon, but only once several key bills on disaster recovery and renewable energy are passed.

The prime minister is trying to persuade MPs to back the release of an extra $25bn (£15.5bn) of reconstruction funds, and will not have wanted attention to be diverted by his minister's comments, says the BBC's Roland Buerk in Tokyo.

Berated for lateness

Mr Matsumoto announced his resignation at a Tokyo press conference early on Tuesday, but gave no reason for his departure.

Analysis

Only last week Naoto Kan hand-picked Ryu Matsumoto to lead the reconstruction effort. So his spectacularly ill-considered remarks and subsequent resignation are a personal blow for the prime minister.

Mr Kan was already struggling to hold on to his own job. The opposition, as well as vocal critics within his own party, accuse him of inept and clumsy handling of Japan's triple disaster.

The prime minister survived a no-confidence motion in the Diet only by promising to go once some progress has been made. Since then the only question that has mattered in Japanese politics is when that will be.

The problem for the country is that all this politicking makes getting to grips with the crisis tougher.

Mr Kan needs the co-operation of the opposition in the Diet to pass a massive supplementary budget to pay for rebuilding, as well as legislation to enable government borrowing and promote renewable energy amid the ongoing nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima.

But the opposition scents the chance of a general election and a possible return to power.

As for Mr Matsumoto he has blamed his behaviour on his blood group, B. That is not as outlandish as it may seem, many people in Japan believe blood type influences personality.

Type Bs have a reputation for abrasiveness. In Mr Matsumoto's case at least it has turned out to be well-deserved.

"I would like to offer my apologies for offending the people in the disaster-hit areas. I thought I was emotionally close to the disaster victims, but I lacked sufficient words and my comments were too harsh.

"I have many things I would like to say... but I will be gone from now."

The 60-year-old made the offending remarks to regional governors at the weekend during his first tour of the tsunami-hit prefectures of Iwate and Miyagi since taking up his new role.

Mr Matsumoto berated Miyagi prefecture governor Yoshihiro Murai for keeping him waiting for a few minutes and refused to shake his hand.

Then he appeared to threaten journalists in the room, saying his comments were off -the-record and if anyone reported them their organisation would be finished.

In a meeting with Iwate governor Takuya Tasso, Mr Matsumoto warned the government "will help areas that offer ideas, but will not help those without ideas. I want you to work with that kind of resolve".

Earlier he had admitted to the Iwate governor that being from the south-west he had little grasp of the geography of the north-east where the tsunami hit.

His comments were aired on television, and the footage received thousands of hits on YouTube and other video-sharing websites, prompting a public outcry and calls for his resignation.

When challenged about his remarks on his return to Tokyo the minister blamed his blood group - those with type B are reputed in Japan to have abrasive personalities.

In his resignation speech, Mr Matsumoto said he would continue to help with reconstruction efforts as "a foot soldier". He urged the governing and opposition parties to join together to tackle the rebuilding.

The 11 March quake and tsunami levelled homes, businesses and towns along Japan's north-eastern coast, leaving more than 20,000 people dead or missing in the country's worst disaster since World War II.

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