TOKYO (AP) — Japan's disaster reconstruction minister resigned over his remark that "it was good" that the March 2011 quake and tsunami had hit northern Japan instead of areas closer to Tokyo.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe accepted Masahiro Imamura's resignation Wednesday.
Imamura was replaced by Masayoshi Yoshino, former deputy environment minister from Fukushima, which was also hit by radiation leaks from a tsunami-hit nuclear power plant. Nobody died from radiation, but overall, the tsunami and the quake killed more than 18,000 people across northern Japan.
Imamura's resignation comes a day after he made the remark in a speech at a ruling party reception, which Abe also attended.
"It was good that (the disaster) hit the Tohoku region, up there. There would have been a massive, enormous damage had it occurred closer to the capital region," Imamura said, referring to reconstruction cost.
Imamura immediately retracted the comment and apologized, but Abe's face reportedly froze.
He apologized again Wednesday for hurting the feelings of those in the disaster-hit northern Japan, but denied giving up his parliamentary seat.
Imamura came under fire earlier this month over his outburst and a suggestion during a news conference that those who left voluntarily following the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant should fend for themselves.
His blunder is the latest in a string of remarks and scandals that have plagued Abe's government in recent months, prompting opposition lawmakers to step up their effort to weaken Abe's grip on power. They were boycotting Wednesday's parliamentary committee meetings.
Abe said he was liable for Imamura's appointment, and apologized. "There have been criticisms that we have been too lax, and I take them seriously."
In March, Abe's reconstruction adviser, who had been criticized for having his underling carry him on the back to hop over a puddle while visiting a flooded town last year, resigned after making a joke over rubber boots.
Imamura's predecessor faced allegation he stole female underwear. Also, earlier this month, a trade vice minister was forced to quit over an adultery scandal.
Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, one of Abe's confidantes, has apologized after acknowledging she had once served as a corporate lawyer for an ultra-nationalistic school, which she initially denied.
Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda has faced criticism over his shaky responses and a lack of expertise in divisive criminal legislation currently debated in parliament.
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