Japan PM 'sorry' over Tokyo lawmaker's sexist jeering

TOKYO (AFP) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe broke a nearly week-long silence on Tuesday and apologised for sexist taunts shouted by a party member at a young Tokyo assemblywoman, reports said.

The apology, issued to the male head of the woman's opposition party, according to Jiji Press and the Asahi newspaper, came hours after he posted a blog on the importance of improving the low rate of female workplace participation in Japan.

In the post, Mr Abe called for women to "shine" but made no mention of the episode. Tokyo assemblyman Akihiro Suzuki, 51, on Monday admitted he had yelled "Why don't you get married?" at Ms Ayaka Shiomura, 35, last week when she was speaking in the chamber during a debate on motherhood.

After days of denials, Mr Suzuki said he was responsible and apologised to Ms Shiomura as he resigned from his membership of Mr Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Hours after the apology, his office was pelted with raw eggs and his Facebook page flooded with comments critical of his behaviour. He was also vilified on Twitter.

Ms Shiomura was questioning senior figures in the Tokyo city administration on plans to help current and future mothers when abuse erupted from seats occupied by LDP members. Mr Suzuki's shout was captured on tape, while some of those in the chamber said they had also heard laughter and taunts such as "Are you not able to have a baby?"

Ms Shiomura, who has said she wants to identify others who joined in the jeering, is set to meet foreign press in Tokyo later on Tuesday, further fuelling a debate that has dominated the domestic news agenda since Friday.

Japan has one of the lowest rates of female workforce participation in the developed world, and most economists agree it badly needs to boost the number of working women. But a lack of childcare facilities, poor career support and deeply entrenched sexism are blamed for keeping women at home.

Mr Abe has made great play of his desire to level the gender playing field, making numerous speeches on the subject over recent months. In his blog piece, published on Tuesday, he wrote: "The government will actively support women, regardless of whether they are currently at work or home, to play more active roles".

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