Tue, Sep 04, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Japanese agriculture minister Endo resigns

EPIDEMIC Takehiko Endo was Shinzo Abe's third agriculture minister in the past four months and his departure is likely to increase criticism of the prime minister

AP , TOKYO

Japan's agriculture minister resigned yesterday over misuse of farm subsidies, the fourth minister driven from office by scandal since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took power a year ago.

Takehiko Endo quit just a week after being appointed to the Cabinet in a reshuffle aimed at regaining public support following a humiliating electoral defeat.

"The series of media reports has made the people lose their trust in politics," Endo told reporters, acknowledging "inappropriate" conduct. "Again, I apologize for not having been able to achieve anything."

Endo's departure, orchestrated by ruling party bigwigs after the scandal broke over the weekend, was a bitter strike against Abe, who is struggling to keep power after losing control of the upper house of parliament to the opposition in July 29 elections.

"It's extremely unfortunate that this was the result after having given careful consideration as to who was the most appropriate person for the position," Abe said.

Endo, Abe's third agriculture minister in the past four months, admitted on Saturday that a farm cooperative he headed had received government subsidies by exaggerating weather damage to the 1999 grape harvest.

Abe said he took responsibility for appointing Endo. But his top lieutenant, Chief Cabinet Secretary Kaoru Yosano, defended the government, saying it had gone through an especially strict selection process for Cabinet members.

"We checked all the documents that we could obtain," Yosano said. "But we can't know everything."

Yosano said Masatoshi Wakabayashi, a former environment minister, would replace Endo.

Another high-ranking bureaucrat, Vice Foreign Minister Yukiko Sakamoto, also stepped down yesterday after acknowledging that her support group faked funding reports in 2004 to 2005.

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