Asia-Pacific

Japan Reconstruction Minister Ryu Matsumoto quits

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.

"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.