Page last updated at 14:00 GMT, Monday, 16 February 2009

Japan minister denies being drunk


Shoichi Nakagawa at the news conference - video courtesy TV Tokyo

Japan's finance minister is facing calls for him to resign amid claims he was drunk at a recent G7 meeting.

Shoichi Nakagawa has apologised for his behaviour but blamed cold remedies for a slurred performance at a news conference in Rome at the weekend.

He said he had not drunk more than a sip of alcohol before facing the media.

Despite opposition calls for him to quit, Mr Nakagawa said Prime Minister Taro Aso had asked him to stay on in his job and be careful of his health.

The news conference followed a meeting of finance ministers focussing on the current world economic crisis.

It's embarrassing. He's damaged the national interest
Yukio Hatoyama
Democratic Party Secretary General

Footage showed Mr Nakagawa slurring his speech and closing his eyes repeatedly as if he was dozing off.

At one point, he mistook a question aimed at the governor of the Bank of Japan as one intended for him.

"It's embarrassing," said Democratic Party Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama. "This has sent a message to the whole world. He's damaged the national interest."

But Mr Nakagawa said it would not affect Japan's standing or its relations with other G7 members.

Approval ratings

He explained that he had sipped wine at a luncheon toast on the day of the news conference, but had not consumed an entire glass.

He said he had taken too much medicine, including cold remedy, and that had made him drowsy. Mr Nakagawa has denied reports - including the view of a former prime minister - that he is a regular drinker.

"What I want the most now is to completely recover from my cold," Mr Nakagawa told reporters.

The controversy comes as Prime Minister Taro Aso is struggling with approval ratings. The latest opinion poll suggests fewer than 10% of people support the prime minister, who must call a general election by September.

Japan, the world's second-biggest economy, has been hard hit by the global downturn; it is seeing a slowdown that is steeper than that being experienced in the US or Europe.

Official figures show the country's economy contracted by 3.3% in the last quarter of last year; its worst showing since the oil crisis of the 1970s.

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