Page last updated at 08:53 GMT, Monday, 11 May 2009 09:53 UK

Japan's opposition leader to quit

Ichiro Ozawa at a news conference in Tokyo (March 2009)

Japanese opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa has announced his resignation.

Mr Ozawa had been under pressure to go after a close aide was charged in a fundraising scandal in March.

Before the scandal broke, Mr Ozawa was thought likely to unseat the flailing prime minister, Taro Aso, in elections later this year.

But opinion polls have suggested that his popularity has waned as a result of the scandal, and in recent weeks he has faced increasing calls to quit.

"I have decided to sacrifice myself and resign as party leader, to strengthen the unity of the party," Mr Ozawa told a news conference.

He said he did not want to be a burden on the Democrat Party ahead of the looming elections, although he insisted that he had not been personally implicated in any wrongdoing.

"I believe it is imperative that we win the elections," Mr Ozawa said. "I do not want to impede that in any way."

Tokyo prosecutors have alleged Mr Ozawa's political funding organisation received 21 million yen ($216,000; £142,000) in illegal donations from Nishimatsu Construction between 2003-07.

One of his senior aides has been charged with political funding law violations, and two company executives have also been arrested.

Loss of confidence

Just a few months ago, the Democratic Party was confident of victory in the next general election, which must be called by the end of September.

Such a victory would end almost 50 years of unbroken rule by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which is facing huge voter discontent amid the worsening economic gloom.

But ever since the funding scandal broke, Mr Ozawa has been under pressure to quit.

Mr Ozawa left the LDP in 1993 after losing a power struggle and joined the Democrats after they formed in 1998.

Commentators say he is a shrewd strategist but has been criticised for what some see as a high-handed attitude.

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Brunei Times Japan's opposition chief resigns - 16 hrs ago
Fresno BeeJapan's opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa resigns - 21 hrs ago
Washington Post Japan opposition to pick new leader before poll - 25 hrs ago
Shanghai Daily Ozawa to resign over Japanese funds row - 26 hrs ago
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