Tue, Feb 06, 2007 - Page 5 News List

More political fallout emerges from offensive remark

SORRY, LADIES Even Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had to apologize after a Cabinet minister made an insensitive comment about Japanese women being `machines'

AP , TOKYO

Japanese leaders said yesterday they would stand by a Cabinet minister who called women "birth-giving machines" despite sagging polls and mixed results in local elections over the weekend that may bode ill for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Health Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa created the stir on Jan. 27 by saying, when talking about Japan's falling birthrate, that "the number of birth-giving machines is fixed, so all we can ask is that they do their best per head."

The remark led to immediate calls for his resignation, and he, along with Abe, later apologized.

But the government yesterday said it was sticking by him.

"The remark itself was extremely inappropriate and therefore the prime minister has apologized," chief Cabinet spokesman Yasuhisa Shiozaki said. "However, I would like him to continue firmly carrying out his health and labor duties for the public and recover their trust."

The gaffe came at a crucial time for Abe, who assumed office in September only to see his support ratings hit the skids.

According to a poll conducted over the weekend, more Japanese now disapprove of Abe than approve of him. Support for Abe slipped 4.7 percentage points to a low of 40.3 percent, almost 25 percentage points down from September, according to a Kyodo News agency poll.

Abe's disapproval rating jumped 5.2 points from a month ago to 44.1 percent, Kyodo said. A majority, or 58.7 percent, of the respondents said they want Yanagisawa to resign. Kyodo contacted 1,486 people over the weekend, receiving replies from 1,053. It gave no margin of error.

Abe's party also suffered a minor setback in local elections on Sunday.

Kenji Kitahashi, a former parliamentarian backed by three opposition parties, beat a candidate supported by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and a junior coalition party in a tight mayoral race in the southern city of Kitakyushu.

But public broadcaster NHK projected late Sunday that Governor Masaaki Kanda of Aichi state in central Japan would keep his seat, though the race with an opposition party-backed candidate was unexpectedly tight.

The elections were being watched closely because Abe faces a much more serious race in July, when half of parliament's upper house seats will be contested.

Abe rebuked Yanagisawa last week, but dismissed calls for him to resign. "I reprimanded him severely," Abe said, adding he saw no reason for him to step down.

The rebuke came after 27 women lawmakers demanded Yanagisawa resign.

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