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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 11:33 GMT
Koizumi steps into foreign ministry
Makiko Tanaka crying
Koizumi was not impressed by Tanaka's tears last week
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi says he is taking over the post of foreign minister himself, until a replacement is found for the controversial outgoing minister, Makiko Tanaka.

Mr Koizumi sacked Mrs Tanaka and her deputy on Tuesday, after a dispute between her and her officials had disrupted a parliamentary budget debate.

It appeared this [dispute] would drag out endlessly over who said what

Junichiro Koizumi
Mr Koizumi said he had been forced to act for the sake of the economy.

But opposition MPs on Wednesday attacked the prime minister, saying that by not investigating the dispute, during which Mrs Tanaka was accused of lying, he had damaged people's trust in government.

Mr Koizumi defended himself: "It appeared this would drag out endlessly over who said what, causing disorder in parliament."

Vice Foreign Minister Yoshiji Nogami
Yoshiji Nogami flatly denied Mrs Tanaka's allegations
The dispute centred on a decision by Mrs Tanaka to overturn a ban on two non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from attending the recent conference held in Tokyo on aid to Afghanistan.

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, leading to Mrs Tanaka crying publicly as reporters questioned her over the affair.

Mr Suzuki, an opponent of Mr Koizumi's reform policies, has also resigned from his powerful position as chairman of Japan's lower house steering committee

Possible replacements

Mr Koizumi said no decision had been made yet on a replacement but added: "I hope it will be soon."

Likely candidates include:

  • Former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata who chaired the global conference in Tokyo on aid for Afghanistan;

  • Environment Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi who helped guide Japan through tricky global-warming talks last year;

  • Japan's ambassador to Germany, Issei Nomura, has also been floated as an outside chance.

A busy diplomatic schedule looms ahead with Russian Foreign Minister Ivan Ivanov due in Tokyo on Friday; US President George Bush visiting next month; and work to do bolstering ties with South Korea ahead of the football World Cup due to start at the end of May.

Analysts say the episode could damage Mr Koizumi's government. Both he and Mrs Tanaka were hugely popular with the public for pledging to reform a discredited political system.

Over 70% of respondents to a poll conducted by a Japanese news agency said they disagreed with the sacking.

Economists are among those most concerned.

They warn that Mr Koizumi is losing his credentials as a committed reformer of Japan's troubled economy.

Commerzbank's Ron Bevacqua
"If his popularity falls...then basically the only card he can play is gone"
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"
Was Japan's PM Koizumi right to sack Makiko Tanaka?



940 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

29 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Axe falls on Japanese foreign minister
26 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan's controversial foreign minister
24 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Profile: Junichiro Koizumi
30 Jan 02 | Media reports
Japanese papers see trouble for PM
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