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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 May 2007, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Japanese minister's funeral held
Funeral of Japanese Agriculture Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka - 30/05/07
Many political colleagues attended the funeral
Hundreds of mourners have attended the funeral of Japan's scandal-hit farms minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka, who committed suicide two days ago.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could not attend the funeral at Mr Matsuoka's home town in southern Japan because he had to attend a parliamentary debate.

Mr Matsuoka, 62, killed himself days before he was due to be questioned over a political funding scandal.

His death has been a political blow for Mr Abe's government.

The prime minister is already facing his poorest poll ratings since taking office eight months ago, ahead of national elections in July.

'So sudden'

Hundreds of local residents and political colleagues attended the private funeral at a Buddhist temple in Kumamoto prefecture, southern Japan.

Reading a memorial address on her husband's behalf, Mr Abe's wife Akie said: "Minister Matsuoka's death was so sudden and he was too young.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (centre) saw off the hearse from Tokyo on 29/05/07
Shinzo Abe (centre) faces tough weeks ahead of key elections

"The minister gave dreams and hopes to the young people who carry out Japan's farming."

Mr Abe had vigorously defended his minister, as he became embroiled in two political scandals and faced opposition calls for his resignation.

Mr Matsuoka died in a Tokyo hospital on Monday after he was found hanging in his Tokyo apartment.

He had been due to face questions in parliament over allegations that he had failed to provide a clear-cut account of his office expenditures.

He was also alleged to have taken campaign donations from businessmen linked to a scandal over rigged contracts.

Second suicide

Japanese media reported that he had left several suicide notes, including one for Prime Minister Abe.

Kyodo news agency quoted from one note, which read: "I apologise from the bottom of my heart for causing disturbance and trouble for my ignorance and lack of virtue.

"With my death, I would like to take the responsibility and apologise."

His suicide was the first by a Japanese cabinet minister since World War II, when the army minister committed suicide on news of Japan's surrender.

A day after Mr Matsuoka's suicide, a former executive for a firm also involved in the bid-rigging scam leapt to his death from his apartment block south of Tokyo.

Shinichi Yamazaki, 76, had headed a government-affiliated company that was in charge of contracts for forestry work. An investigation was assessing whether bids were rigged in favour of donors to Mr Matsuoka.

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