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Tuesday, 29 January, 2002, 19:00 GMT
Axe falls on Japanese foreign minister
Tanaka (R) and her deputy Yoshiji Nogami (L)
Tanaka, right, and her deputy have both been sacked
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has fired his controversial Foreign Minister, Makiko Tanaka, and her deputy.


Foreign Minister Tanaka has made great contributions but it was a bitter decision, which was unavoidable to normalise the situation

Junichiro Koizumi
The dismissals come after Mrs Tanaka was accused of lying in a dispute with bureaucrats from her ministry over an incident at a recent conference on aid to Afghanistan.

Mr Koizumi said he was responsible for allowing the ministry's problems to affect the whole government and was therefore forced to act, describing the decision as "bitter" but "unavoidable".

He added that the dispute should not be permitted to delay the passage of next year's budget.


[Koizumi] asked me to agree to personnel changes, I asked if that meant me, and he said yes

Makiko Tanaka
Mrs Tanaka overturned a decision to ban two NGOs from attending the conference - she said she was told by her deputy, Yoshiji Nogami, that the ban had been ordered by an influential ruling party MP.

But both Mr Nogami and the MP, Muneo Suzuki, denied it.

The dispute has disrupted passage of the budget and is undermining the credibility of the administration.

Late night call

Mr Koizumi summoned Mrs Tanaka to his home late on Tuesday night to inform her of his decision.

Junichiro Koizumi
Koizumi: Concerned about the passage of next year's budget
"[Koizumi] asked me to agree to personnel changes. I asked if that meant me, and he said yes," Mrs Tanaka later told reporters.

Mr Koizumi has not yet indicated who might replace Mrs Tanaka.

He paid tribute to her work at a late-night news conference: "Foreign Minister Tanaka has made great contributions but it was a bitter decision, which was unavoidable to normalise the situation."

"I feel that the fact that the problems in the Foreign Ministry began to affect the entire government and parliamentary debate is my responsibility," he added. "That is why I made this decision."

Tears

At the height of the confrontation last week Mrs Tanaka broke down and cried, prompting Mr Koizumi to comment that tears were a woman's greatest weapon.

Makiko Tanaka cries at reporters' questioning
Koizumi was not impressed by Tanaka's tears last week
The prime minister's remarks enraged female MPs, 18 of whom handed over a letter demanding a retraction of the statement.

The BBC Tokyo correspondent, Charles Scanlon, says both Mr Koizumi and Mrs Tanaka are hugely popular with the public for pledging to reform a discredited political system.

But Mrs Tanaka has faced dogged resistance from her officials and has received little support from cabinet colleagues.

Organised leaks to the media have portrayed her as incompetent and arrogant.

Anti-Tanaka stories have included:

  • how she was late for a meeting with the visiting Iranian foreign minister because she had lost a ring

  • how she gave away the secret location of the American cabinet after the 11 September attacks

  • how she erupted in fury when she did not receive an invitation to the Emperor's garden party.

But our correspondent says that, by not backing Mrs Tanaka, Mr Koizumi is risking damage to his own popularity.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Charles Scanlon
"Japanese diplomacy has degenerated into farce"
Keiichiro Asao, Opposition Democratic MP, Tokyo
"I did not expect the Prime Minister to ask for Mrs Tanaka to resign"
The BBC's Charles Scanlon
"Eighteen female MPs demanded the PM retract the statement"
 VOTE RESULTS
Was Japan's PM Koizumi right to sack Makiko Tanaka?

Yes
 36.28% 

No
 63.72% 

940 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

26 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan's controversial foreign minister
24 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Profile: Junichiro Koizumi
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