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The BBC's Juliet Hindell in Tokyo
"Obuchi's successor will inheirt the job at a difficult time"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 4 April, 2000, 11:42 GMT 12:42 UK
Japanese government resigns
Mikio Aoki, right, and Foreign Minister Yohei Kono
Mikio Aoki, right, and Yohei Kono at a cabinet meeting
The Japanese cabinet has resigned to pave the way for the appointment of a successor to Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.

Mr Obuchi is in a coma and fighting for his life after suffering a stroke at the weekend.

The acting prime minister, Mikio Aoki, said that a vacuum in government could not be allowed to continue.

The governing Liberal Democrat Party has not named a successor, but is reported to favour its secretary-general, Yoshiro Mori - a veteran politician with strong support from within his own party and its coalition partners.

Also in the running is Foreign Minister Yohei Kono.

Yoshiro Mori
Mori could be PM as early as Wednesday
Under Japanese law, the cabinet must resign if the prime minister is incapacitated.

A parliamentary official has suggested that Japan's lower house of parliament could choose a new prime minister on Wednesday.

Lower house parliamentary affairs official Yasue Endo said that the house would hold a session on Wednesday to choose a new premier starting at 1300 local time (0400 GMT).

The upper house of parliament would meet afterwards to endorse the choice.

Condition worsens

Mr Obuchi is in a coma and is breathing only with the help of a respirator in the intensive care unit of a Tokyo hospital.

Mr Aoki said medication had apparently stabilised Mr Obuchi's blood pressure, but a later report by the Kyodo news agency quoted political sources as saying Mr Obuchi's condition had worsened on Tuesday morning.

Mr Obuchi worked long hours dealing with the eruption
Earlier unconfirmed reports from Tokyo said Mr Obuchi was brain dead.

The Tokyo Broadcasting System quoted a medical source as saying the prime minister had been "diagnosed as clinically brain dead and doctors continued final treatment".

Mr Obuchi's family is gathering around him, including one daughter, Yuko, who flew in from London on Tuesday morning. His wife spent Monday night at his bedside.

The BBC Tokyo correspondent Juliet Hindell says the timing of any announcement on a new government is delicate, as it would signal that Mr Obuchi will not be returning to politics, and ministers wish to spare the feelings of Mr Obuchi's family.

Under pressure

Correspondents say the process of finding a new leader should be a smooth one, as other political parties are not rocking the boat.

Keizo Obuchi in Tokyo on Saturday
Mr Obuchi, who has a pacemaker, became prime minister in July 1998. Questions were raised then about the state of his health, but until now there have been no reported problems since he took office.

The official line NHK television reported on Sunday that Mr Obuchi had become severely tired from overseeing the government's response to the volcano on the island of Hokkaido.

Over the past few days, Mr Obuchi also had to deal with the break-up of his governing coalition.

'Mishandling the crisis'

The government's handling of Obuchi's illness has come in for harsh criticism in the Japanese press.

Mr Obuchi went into hospital at 1300 local time on Sunday, but it was not until 22 hours later that the government acknowledged his whereabouts.

It was then announced that Mr Obuchi went onto hospital for "fatigue". In fact, he had been diagnosed with a stroke earlier, and admitted to intensive care.

Newspapers have described the handling of the events as a cover-up and warned that more lies may yet be revealed.

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See also:

02 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Profile: Keizo Obuchi
04 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan's workaholic culture
04 Apr 00 | Media reports
Media spotlight on Obuchi's illness
03 Apr 00 | Business
Japan's economy shakes off worries
02 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Mount Usu tremors slow down
28 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Opposition boycotts Obuchi speech
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