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Japan’s prime minister to quit

Disaster response drove him out

By Mari Yamaguchi
Associated Press / August 27, 2011

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TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said yesterday he would resign after almost 15 months in office amid plunging approval ratings concerning his government’s handling of the tsunami disaster and nuclear crisis.

In a nationally televised speech, Kan said he was stepping down as chief of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and would officially quit as prime minister after the ruling party votes Monday to pick a new leader - the country’s sixth prime minister in five years.

Japan has been plagued by high turnover in political leadership at a time when the country faces huge problems, including an aging population, bulging debt, and stagnant economy - and now reconstruction from the worst disaster to hit the country since World War II.

Former foreign minister Seiji Maehara, a 49-year-old expert in defense and a China hawk, is viewed as the front-runner to replace Kan. Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Trade Minister Banri Kaieda are also viewed as contenders.

The decision was widely expected because Kan had promised in June to quit after lawmakers passed three key pieces of legislation, the final two of which cleared Parliament earlier yesterday. Kan managed to survive only a few months longer than the four previous prime ministers, each of whom lasted a year or less.

Looking back on his year and three months in office, Kan said he did all he could given the difficulties he faced, including the disasters and a major election defeat in upper house elections last summer that left the Parliament in gridlock.

“Under the severe circumstances, I feel I’ve done everything that I had to do,’’ he said. “Now I would like to see you choose someone respectable as a new prime minister.’’

The 64-year-old Kan has seen his approval ratings tumble below 20 percent amid a perceived lack of leadership after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which led to meltdowns at three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Only 10 percent of respondents approved of Kan’s job performance, while 69 percent disapproved, in an AP-GfK poll done July 29 through Aug. 10.

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