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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 August 2007, 04:07 GMT 05:07 UK
Scandal-hit Japan minister quits
Norihiko Akagi, pictured on 11 July 2007
Mr Akagi said he bore partial responsibility for the poll result

Japan's scandal-hit agriculture minister is to step down following the ruling coalition's crushing defeat in Sunday's upper house polls.

Norihiko Akagi, who is accused of financial irregularities, offered his resignation and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe accepted it, a spokesman said.

A number of Mr Abe's ministers have been hit by scandal, an issue seen as a key factor in his party's poll defeat.

The premier has pledged to reshuffle his Cabinet in the wake of the polls.

Mr Akagi said he was partly to blame for the defeat.

"There were various reports about me during the upper house election campaign," he said.

"It is an undisputed fact that these were partly responsible for the defeat of the ruling coalition."

Mr Akagi, who is accused of misreporting office expenses, was appointed only two months ago. His predecessor, Toshikatsu Matsuoka, committed suicide in May over a separate funding scandal.

Two more of Mr Abe's ministers have been forced to step down in recent months, causing many voters to question his leadership skills.

'Senseless conduct'

But the prime minister has so far resisted calls for his resignation in the wake of Sunday's elections, which saw control of the upper chamber wrested from his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)-led ruling coalition.

Norihiko Akagi, pictured on 11 July 2007

The opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) made huge gains, becoming for the first time in its history the largest party in the upper house.

The LDP still controls the more powerful lower house and the party has continued to back Mr Abe - in part, some experts say, due to the absence of a suitable candidate to replace him.

The premier has stated that he plans to continue with an agenda of reform.

But according to the latest opinion polls, almost half of the public want him to step down.

About 47% of respondents wanted him to resign, the Asahi newspaper said, while the Yomiuri newspaper put the figure at 45%.

On Tuesday, DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa hit out at Mr Abe's decision to stay.

He was "trying to get away with such senseless conduct, trying to keep his cabinet in charge even after his party lost the majority", he said.

"I don't think he will gain people's support and understanding by doing something so selfish."

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