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Okinawa minister Esaki resigns after stroke, succeeded by Fukui

  • February 27, 2018
  • , Kyodo News , 10:08 p.m.
  • English Press

TOKYO — Minister in charge of Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs Tetsuma Esaki resigned Tuesday after suffering a minor stroke, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe picking a senior lawmaker as Esaki’s successor.


Abe said he has appointed 64-year-old Teru Fukui, a former senior vice education minister, to replace the 74-year-old Esaki. Fukui, a ruling Liberal Democratic Party member of the House of Representatives, is serving his seventh term.


Referring to the bulk of the U.S. military facilities the southern Japan prefecture hosts, Fukui said in a press conference, “I will do my best to reduce the burden of hosting the bases, feeling the wishes of the Okinawa people.”


Esaki’s resignation comes as the ruling bloc abandoned its initial plan to get the budget for fiscal 2018 passed by the lower house on Tuesday amid clashes with opposition parties after numerous errors had been found in a labor ministry survey on work hours aimed at supporting a government-proposed labor reform bill.


“As it’s important for the budget to be enacted without delay, I asked Mr. Fukui” to take up the ministerial post, Abe told reporters at his office in the afternoon.


Esaki, also a seventh-term LDP lower house member, was diagnosed last week with having had an attack that caused a temporary disruption of blood flow to the brain. He was hospitalized again Monday for additional checkups.


Esaki said in a statement, “I have decided to resign my post so as not to interfere with the significant Diet deliberations.” Abe said he respected Esaki’s intention to resign as he needs medical treatment in the hospital or at home “for a while.”


Esaki becomes the seventh Cabinet minister to step down since Abe returned to power in late 2012. Esaki had been repeatedly under fire for gaffes after assuming his first ministerial post last August.


The lawmaker elected from a constituency in Aichi Prefecture, central Japan, was tasked with handling issues related to the southern island prefecture, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, and a group of islands off Hokkaido controlled by Russia but claimed by Japan.


In August, he said he would “read aloud” texts prepared by government officials to avoid making mistakes in responding to questions in parliament, something ministers regularly do but rarely admit to doing.


Earlier this month, Esaki corrected a remark after calling “Northern Territories Day,” which falls on Feb. 7, “Okinawa and Northern Day.” The disputed islands are called the Northern Territories by Japan and the Southern Kurils by Russia.


Esaki was first elected to the lower house in 1993 as a successor to his father Masumi Esaki, an LDP heavyweight who served as trade minister.

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