Japan disaster minister to resign over quake gaffe: Reports

Imamura (abovem in a file photo) told a party gathering it was “a good thing” that the 2011 disaster occurred in north-east Japan.
Imamura (abovem in a file photo) told a party gathering it was “a good thing” that the 2011 disaster occurred in north-east Japan.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's disaster reconstruction minister is expected to resign on Wednesday (April 26) following his controversial remarks over the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, in a setback for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, local media reported.

Masahiro Imamura plans to submit his resignation to Abe on Wednesday morning, national broadcaster NHK said late on Tuesday, adding that Abe had already decided to appoint Masayoshi Yoshino, a veteran politician of Abe's ruling party, as his successor.

Imamura came under fire after he told a party gathering on Tuesday that it was "a good thing" that the 2011 disaster occurred in north-east Japan.

"If it had been close to the capital zone, there would have been enormous damage," said Imamura, who later retracted the remarks.

A massive undersea quake on March 11, 2011 sent a tsunami barrelling into the north-east coast, leaving more than 18,500 people dead or missing and sending three reactors into meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Abe, attending the same gathering, later apologised "as prime minister" for Imamura's "extremely inappropriate remarks that hurt people from the north-east."

Imamura's latest gaffe drew criticism from the opposition, with the Democratic Party demanding his immediate resignation.

Earlier this month, Imamura also came under criticism after he said people who had not returned to areas of Fukushima recognised by the government as safe to live in are "responsible for themselves."

He then ousted the journalist whose question led to the remarks at a news conference, shouting: "Get out."

Abe's approval rating has recently fallen sharply, as scandals erode public confidence in a government now in its fifth year.

He took power in December 2012 on the back of widespread frustration with the previous administration's handling of the 2011 nuclear disaster and perceived mismanagement of ties with key ally the United States.

Abe vowed to revive the world's third-largest economy by ending years of on-and-off deflation and pursue his pet project of amending Japan's post-war pacificist constitution that bans it from use of force except in the strictest sense of self-defence.

But he has been forced to deny connections with a nationalistic school operator whose purchase of state land to build a primary school at a huge discount has drawn allegations of shady dealings.