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Tuesday, 4 April, 2000, 17:18 GMT 18:18 UK
Media spotlight on Obuchi's illness
Mikio Aoki announces the news
Aoki announces the news ... hours late
There has been sympathy in the Japanese media for the problems of ailing Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.

But there has also been criticism of the way the news of his illness has been handled by Japanese officials.

Mr Obuchi had been "ground down by toil", the Daily Yomiuri said.

His "chronic fatigue" was likely to have been exacerbated by the need to coordinate a swift response to last week's volcanic eruptions in Mt Usu, and the withdrawal of the Liberal Party from Japan's ruling coalition, the paper suggested.

The facts should immediately have been stated

Yomiuri Shimbun
Yomiuri reserved its fire for the handling of news of his illness by government officials - and the implications this had for the country's disaster management.

"It is baffling that the government did not make public Obuchi's hospitalization until twenty-two and a half hours after the event. It is beyond belief that his absence was explained by saying he was spending time with his family... in the prime minister's official residence," the paper said.

"In a case like Obuchi's, the facts should immediately have been stated from the viewpoint of crisis management, and necessary steps taken without delay so as not to create even a moment of political vacuum caused by the absence of the supremo of national politics. "

"That is the only acceptable action of a responsible government," it said.

Excruciating slowness

Under the headline "The hours ticked away and nobody was in charge", Asahi Shimbun said the delay in informing the public indicated that Japan's government apparatus lacked any credible crisis management structure.

The prime minister was effectively "missing"

Asahi Shimbun

"There seems to be no other explanation for the excruciating slowness in diclosing information", the paper wrote.

It said Mr Obuchi had been diagnosed as having suffered a stroke soon after he entered hospital at 1 a.m on Sunday morning. But it had taken another four hours even before Chief Cabinet Secretary Aoki had been informed.

In that time, the prime minister was effectively "missing".

Not the first time

And there were some in the media who saw a pattern.

The Japanese news agency Kyodo pointed to how earlier governments had responded to the illness of past prime ministers.

Governments, it said, had fed the public false medical diagnoses in order to play down the political impact and in an attempt to protect the careers of those involved. For example:

  • May 1980: Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira was hospitalized after a heart attack: the government announced he had a "transient irregular pulse caused by overwork". He died 12 days later.

  • September 1964: Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda was hospitalized for treatment of cancer of the throat: the government first announced the hospitalization was for the treatment of "chronic laryngitis" and, two weeks later, announced he had "a benign tumor". He died the following year.

Time for 'soul searching'

Asked repeatedly by reporters why the public had been kept in the dark about the Prime Minister's absence for nearly 24 hours, Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki agreed that some officials had been at fault.

He admitted they had restricted the number of government figures who were briefed on Obuchi's hospitalisation.

"We should be blamed for that," he said.

"I feel that we have to take this opportunity to do some soul searching, as there are many problems."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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See also:

04 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan's workaholic culture
04 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan moves to fill power vacuum
02 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japanese PM slips into coma
01 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Liberals to quit Japanese coalition
01 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Mount Usu roars again
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