Monday, July 30, 2007

Abe promises to reshuffle cabinet, leadership after LDP lets him stay PM

Gaining his ruling coalition's go-head to stay in office despite a historic election defeat, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed Monday to reshuffle his cabinet and his party's executive posts at "an appropriate time," and ruled out an early dissolution of the House of Representatives for a general election.

Earlier in the day, Abe's Liberal Democratic Party decided at a top executive meeting to allow him to remain as prime minister and the party's president, and the LDP and its coalition partner, the New Komeito party, reaffirmed that they will maintain their partnership and support the Abe administration.

"I will keep promoting reforms. I expect senior LDP officials to tackle the issue of money and politics more vigorously," Abe told the executive meeting, held a day after the LDP's crushing defeat in the Sunday's House of Councillors election.

The LDP also decided to discuss with the opposition bloc about convening an extraordinary Diet session for four days from Aug 7 after new members of the upper house were elected.

Speaking later at a press conference at LDP headquarters in Tokyo, Abe said, "It is the people's wish to have us reflect on the things we should reflect on and to refresh our minds. I would like to have a cabinet reshuffle and appoint new party executives at an appropriate time."

Asked whether he intends to dissolve the more powerful lower house, he said, "Two years are left in the House of Representatives' term and it is important to achieve things...but, of course, I'm thinking of holding a House of Representatives election at an appropriate time and go to the people."

The Abe administration is expected to face strong pressure to dissolve the lower house from the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which topped the LDP to become a party with the largest number of upper house seats.

While the LDP-led coalition lost its majority in the upper chamber for the first time since 1998 in Sunday's election, it still has a comfortable majority in the lower house, which has greater legislative power and the final say on the state budget and the election of a prime minister.

Also brushing aside possible political confusion over legislative procedures and other matters in the Diet, Abe said he wants to seek cooperation with the DPJ by listening to its views on legislative issues.

Abe attributed the defeat to pension-related problems and scandals over political funds which involved cabinet ministers.

The prime minister admitted the election showed "the public does not feel enough" about the revision of the Political Funds Control Law that was passed in the last Diet session in addressing problems linking politics and money.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

2,000 tons of water flowed into reactor building after quake

About 2,000 tons of water flowed into the building housing one of the seven reactors at the world's largest nuclear power station in Niigata Prefecture operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. after it was hit by the earthquake last week, company officials said Tuesday.

The officials said no radioactive substances have been detected in the leaked water and that there is no danger of radioactive leakage from the building, which is kept pressurized. The magnitude-6.8 earthquake on July 16 damaged underground water pipes for firefighting just outside the building housing the 1,100 megawatt No. 1 reactor at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power station. The plant is located in the city of Kashiwazaki and the village of Kariwa along the Sea of Japan coast.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

4 people found dead in Osaka, murder-suicide suspected

A resident of a condominium unit was found collapsed in front of the condominium building in Osaka's Higashiyodogawa Ward on Friday afternoon and later confirmed dead, while a woman and two children were later found dead in the condo, police said. A custodian of the building found the man just after 1 p.m. and called for an ambulance, the police said. The man was identified as Nobuyuki Hirota, a 34-year-old electrical engineer who lived on the third floor of the nine-story building.

In a room of the condominium unit, the police later found the bodies of Hirota's pregnant wife Kazue and their two children Sora, 5, and Nanami, 2. All three showed signs of having been strangled and were lying side by side with both hands placed on their chests, the police said. A mobile phone found near Kazue's body contained an unsent text message that said, "I've decided to die after consultation with my wife. I can no longer take it. I am sorry for the children." Kazue was expected to give birth in September. The police suspect the man killed the three before committing suicide by jumping from the top floor of the condominium building. Hirota had a debt of several million yen, the police said.

Friday, July 20, 2007

11-year-old girl stabbed by man in school in Miyagi Pref.

An 11-year-old girl was seriously injured after being stabbed in the abdomen by a man in an elementary school in Osato, Miyagi Prefecture, Friday morning, police said.
The sixth grader is conscious and her life is not in danger, the police said.
The man, who is in his 50s, has been detained and is being questioned, they said.
A closing ceremony for the first semester was due to be held at the school Friday.

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Top court lets death sentence stand for former AUM Shinriyko member

The Supreme Court on Friday let the death sentence stand for Masato Yokoyama, a former key member of the AUM Shinrikyo group who was involved in perpetrating the deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995.
The court rejected an appeal by the 43-year-old defendant. He is the third AUM group member for whom Publish Postthe death sentence has been confirmed.

Teachers' suit against action over Hinomaru, 'Kimigayo' rejected

The Tokyo District Court turned down Thursday a damages suit filed by a group of teachers in Tokyo who had claimed that their constitutional rights had been infringed upon for being punished and forced to go through a retraining program after they had refused to stand up and face the Hinomaru national flag and to sing the "Kimigayo" anthem at school events.

Presiding Judge Shigeru Nakanishi, acting on the suit by a group of 130 teachers at schools run by the Tokyo metropolitan government, rejected the plaintiffs' demand for the payment of 10,000 yen each in damages.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Fujimori confident of being elected in Japan; Dewi Sukarno campaigns for him

Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, running for a position in the upper house in the Japanese national elections while under house arrest in Chile, said Wednesday he would like to make use of his political experiences for Japan as election campaigning started in Japan. "I believe Japanese voters have come to realize that I am innocent. I am convinced of getting elected," he said.

But Fujimori, 68, does not have much of a chance to appeal to voters in Japan in person as he is not allowed to go out except in emergencies such as sickness. He does not appear perturbed by such a situation however, saying he is "supported by Japanese friends and staff at the party" that has fielded him for the House of Councillors election.

Meanwhile, in Tokyo, Dewi Sukarno, a Japanese TV celebrity and a friend of Fujimori, campaigned on his behalf, urging the public to support him.

"Fujimori, as president, propelled the economy for growth and overcame terrorism," said the widow of late Indonesian President Sukarno, referring to Fujimori's career as Peruvian president

Man decapitates himself after driving off with neck tied to tree in Nagoya

Police on Thursday found a headless body in a car in the parking lot of Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Nagoya. A passerby spotted the head lying on the ground by the rear of the idling station wagon around 7 a.m. and called police. Police found a suicide note inside the car and believe that the body belongs to a man in his 50s who resided in Nagoya.

The rear door of the station wagon was open and a rope, about four meters long, was tied to a tree nearby, police said. They believe the man committed suicide by tying the rope around his neck, and then accelerated the car, decapitating himself.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Gunma prefectural official caught secretly filming upskirt images

A Gunma Prefectural official was arrested Wednesday for secretly filming up women's skirts at a bookstore in Maebashi on Tuesday. The man, identified as Kazuhiko Shimada, 27, allegedly approached a female bookstore clerk, who was organizing a shelf, from behind and filmed up her skirt with a digital camera around 8:30 p.m.

A customer spotted Shimada and grabbed him when he tried to flee. The store called police. Shimada was quoted as saying that he has been secretly filming these kinds of images for a few years.

American English teacher arrested for beating up taxi driver after refusing to pay fare

Police said Wednesday that a male English teacher was arrested for beating up a taxi driver and not paying the cab fare on July 1. The teacher, identified as Timothy Wilson, 49, from the U.S., was charged with assault.

According to police, Wilson got into the taxi in Minato Ward and then refused to pay the 2,400 yen cab fare and allegedly punched the 49-year-old taxi driver in the face several times in Setagaya Ward. The taxi driver chased Wilson who fled the scene, and called police even though he was injured. Wilson has admitted to the allegations, police said.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Foreigners more eager for local interaction than Japanese: survey

Foreign residents in Japan show more appetite for interacting with local Japanese people than the other way around, according to a survey unveiled Monday by the land ministry and other agencies. The survey showed that 56% of foreign respondents living in districts where foreigners accounted for 15% or more of the total population expressed eagerness to communicate with their local communities, while only 10% of Japanese respondents said they want to interact with foreign residents.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport attributed the survey results to the lack of opportunities for Japanese people to meet foreign residents. As steps to increase such opportunities, the ministry stressed the need for cooperation among residents, companies, administrative authorities, and schools in local communities, and establishment of a framework in which local people and foreigners can promote exchanges with each other.

The survey was conducted between December 2006 and January 2007 among 738 foreign households and 1,104 Japanese households in a total of 16 districts in four prefectures — Gunma, Tochigi, Saitama and Ibaraki.

Chiba council member arrested for assault on minor

A council member in Nagareyama, Chiba Prefecture, was arrested Sunday for taking a 14-year-old girl to a hotel and sexually assaulting her, police said Monday. The council member, identified as Mikio Suganuma, 58, of the Social Democratic Party, allegedly approached the 14-year-old girl in front of Kasukabe station on the Tobu line in Saitama, and took her to a hotel where he sexually assaulted her.

The girl reported the incident to police around 1 p.m. on Sunday. Suganuma has admitted to the charge, police said. He was quoted as telling police that he was at the station to meet another girl he had contacted on an Internet dating site, but she hadn't shown up. "I am deeply sorry for what I did."

Body of naked woman found in Hiroshima apartment; 18-year-old arrested

Police on Monday arrested an 18-year-old man after a 21-year-old woman was found strangled in an apartment in Hiroshima early Monday morning.

The woman, identified as Aika Tokunaga, was found dead inside a closet around 2:40 a.m. She was naked and her neck had strangulation marks, police said. Her bag was missing, they added. Police said that Tokunaga worked at a sex-related business and went missing after she was hired to go to the apartment on Sunday night.

Police said the suspect, who cannot be named because he is a minor, is the younger brother of the male tenants of the apartment. He admitted to the allegations saying: "I strangled her and stole her bag."

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Utility cost scandal hits farm minister Akagi

A political funds scandal surfaced Saturday involving Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Norihiko Akagi, who took over the post in early June after his predecessor committed suicide following a similar scandal, according to information from sources familiar with the issue.

The home of one of Akagi's relatives was registered as the office of a political organization supporting him and some 12 million yen was booked as rent, utilities and other costs from 2003 to 2005, they said. The organization submitted political funds reports to the Ibaraki prefectural election board, which say its office is in the home. As the home was not the office and the spending is fictitious, doubts have arisen that the spending was misappropriated.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Japan fields human rights envoy as Int'l Criminal Court judge

Japan on Friday endorsed Fumiko Saiga, its special envoy on human rights issues to run for one of the three vacant positions for a judge at the International Criminal Court in an election in December, Foreign Minister Taro Aso said.

The Hague-based court for trying people accused of genocides, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other crimes of serious nature has 18 judges. Three of them have to be filled following the resignations of three judges. Japan is scheduled to formally join the ICC in October, which currently has 104 state parties. Saiga, 63, was appointed in December 2005 as a special envoy to oversee human rights issues, including the cases of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea, to take part in international meetings on human rights and to work to engage the international community toward resolving the abduction issue.

Minister's bodyguard held for allegedly molesting woman on train

A police bodyguard for state minister Sanae Takaichi has been arrested for allegedly molesting a young woman on a commuter train in Tokyo, police said Thursday. The man was identified as Masao Shinada, 39, an assistant inspector at the Metropolitan Police Department's VIP protection division, who was arrested Monday.

Investigations show that Shinada groped a woman in her 20s around 10:40 p.m. Monday on an east-bound train on the JR Sobu Line between Kinshicho and Shin-Koiwa stations. Male passengers seized Shinada and handed him over to police. Shinada said he does not remember anything because he was drunk. Takaichi, one of three women in the cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, told reporters at the Diet that she is "astonished and deeply concerned" over the arrest of her guard.

Police arrest U.S. sailor from Yokosuka base on suspicion of trying to kill girl, woman

Police arrested a U.S. Navy sailor Thursday on suspicion of attempting to murder a Japanese girl and a woman who were found stabbed in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, in the morning. The 19-year-old petty officer 2nd class, from the frigate USS Gary stationed at the U.S. Navy's Yokosuka base, was taken into custody by police after he was found at a department store in the city at around 11 a.m.

Rear Adm James Kelly, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Japan, issued a statement saying the Navy is cooperating with the Japanese police investigation and has been in contact with local, prefectural and national government officials to resolve the case "as quickly as possible."

The police and the Navy have not yet released the name of the sailor.

The girl, who told police she is 16 and from Tokyo's Suginami Ward, was found bleeding from the abdomen on a street in Yokosuka around 8:30 a.m. A person working at a nearby construction site found her and called the police, they said.

She sustained minor injuries, according to police.

A police officer who went to the scene after the call found a woman stabbed in the back at a nearby apartment. The woman, who said she is 26 and from Ayase, Kanagawa, has serious but not life-threatening injuries, police said.

According to the investigation so far, the sailor is suspected of stabbing the women and fleeing the apartment after quarreling with them. The 16-year-old told the police that she went to seek help after the stabbings.

The girl was also quoted as telling police she was stabbed by an African-American U.S. serviceman she got to know Wednesday and who visited the apartment.

"This is a serious incident and we are gravely concerned that one of our sailors may have been involved," Kelly said. "We all pray for the victims' speedy recovery."

Also in a statement, U.S. Rear Adm Richard Wren, commander of the Task Force Seven Zero which oversees the Gary, vowed to carry out a thorough review of the Navy's standards of conduct to "reinforce our commitment to good order and discipline."

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

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Koike seeks 'flexible defensive power' to protect Japan

New Defense Minister Yuriko Koike said Wednesday that her ministry must create a "multifunctional, flexible and effective defensive power" to protect Japan and deal with new threats such as terrorism and North Korea's missile and nuclear programs. In an address to personnel, Koike, 54, who became the first woman to assume the top defense post in a Japanese cabinet, also called for Japan to take an active part in international peace cooperation activities so as to be able to respond fully to the expectations of the international community.

While urging members of her ministry and the Self-Defense Forces to work together to carry out their duties effectively, she said she would work on further enhancing close ties with the United States and the bilateral security arrangement as well as moving forward with implementing the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, among other issues.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has already instructed Koike to place priority on the steady implementation of a final agreement made last year with the United States to realign the U.S. military presence in Japan.

Attention is expected to focus on how to move forward the agreement's central undertaking — the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Futemma Air Station within Okinawa — and related plans such as transferring about 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam.

"Ms Koike also worked as state minister in charge of Okinawa issues and knows fully about the background," Abe told reporters at his office earlier in the day. "We hope to proceed with the Futemma relocation while listening to the voices of the local people."

Koike said at the ministry, "I hope to realize the realignment of the U.S. military in Japan, including the Futemma Air Station relocation and the transfer of U.S. Marines in Okinawa to Guam, that was agreed on by the Japanese and U.S. governments as soon as possible while listening to the opinions of the local people and gaining their understanding through explanations."

She also said she will work on Japan's ballistic missile defense system and reinforce the management of information at the ministry and the SDF to prevent a recurrence of incidents involving leakage of confidential data.

Abe appointed Koike, his special security adviser, as defense minister on Tuesday shortly after accepting her predecessor Fumio Kyuma's resignation over his controversial remarks on the U.S. atomic bombings of Japan in World War II.

The swift move was apparently aimed at limiting any adverse impact on Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, the New Komeito party, in the July 29 House of Councillors election.

Her appointment was made formal after an imperial attestation ceremony in the early afternoon.

LDP executives met Wednesday and reaffirmed their intention to stand together in fighting the upper house election and attacking main opposition Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa's basic policies.

But some within the LDP have been critical of the way Abe handled Kyuma's controversial remarks, which were taken as implying the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 were justified, saying it "exposed the prime minister's lack of crisis management skills."

In a speech on Saturday, Kyuma said, "I understand the bombings brought the war to its end. I think it was something that couldn't be helped."

Responding to the remarks the same day, Abe said, "I understand he was presenting the thinking of the United States in those days," indicating he did not have a problem with Kyuma's comments.

Abe also indicated he would not dismiss Kyuma over the remarks until the latter decided Tuesday to step down amid mounting criticism not only from opposition parties but also within the ruling bloc, as well as from atomic-bomb survivors.

Yoshiaki Takagi, the DPJ's Diet affairs chairman, said Abe's handling of the situation was "not self-consistent" as he could not decide to dismiss Kyuma as his appointment last September was reward-oriented in relation to Abe's successful campaign in the LDP presidential election the same month.

Kyuma is the third member Abe has lost from his 17-member cabinet since taking office last September, following administrative reform minister Genichiro Sata, who resigned in December over a political funds scandal, and farm minister Toshikazu Matsuoka, who committed suicide amid a spate of scandals over his political funds.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Abe cautions Kyuma to watch his tongue following A-bomb remarks

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sternly warned Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma on Monday to be more careful with his words following weekend comments taken as justifying the U.S. atomic bombing of Japan in World War II. "I hope the minister will continue to carry out his duties especially on the issue of nuclear disarmament after having reflected on his words and fully grasped the weight of such remarks," Abe told reporters, rejecting calls from the opposition that Kyuma be sacked.

Kyuma apologized for and retracted the remarks Sunday. "I told him that Japan is the world's only country to have suffered from atomic bombs and that we must always consider the feelings of the A-bomb sufferers in Nagasaki and Hiroshima and consider their feelings," Abe told reporters separately. "I cautioned him to take care not to make remarks that will cause misunderstanding."

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Abe says he won't fire Kyuma following apology over A-bomb comments

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Sunday he will not sack Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma who apologized for recent comments that were taken as justifying the atomic bombing of Japan in World War II. Abe also ruled out calling on the United States to apologize for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"I want Mr Kyuma to exercise his leadership as the defense minister on the issue of nuclear disarmament in the future, too," Abe said during a debate with main opposition Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa.

Abe also said, "Our task will not be to spend energy on pressing the United States to apologize but to make efforts and to do our utmost toward nuclear disarmament," referring to the 1945 atomic bombings.

Describing the U.S. atomic bombings as "an unforgivable act," Abe also signaled it would be unrealistic for Japan to call on the United States for such an apology while also seeking Washington's protection under its nuclear umbrella.

"On the diplomatic front, the thing would be like this: We call for a U.S. apology and we must request the United States provide nuclear deterrence," Abe said, brushing aside Ozawa's call for Tokyo to apply diplomatic pressure on Washington for an apology.

Abe said that the creation of a world free of nuclear weapons is Japan's "ultimate goal" as the only country to have experienced nuclear attacks.

But Abe also said that Japan currently needs the U.S. military deterrence as it was faced with North Korea's nuclear test and test-launch of ballistic missiles last year. "That's the reality," he said.

Earlier Sunday, Kyuma apologized for controversial remarks he made Saturday regarding the atomic bombing of Nagasaki by the United States in 1945. Kyuma hails from Nagasaki Prefecture.

"I am sorry that my remarks gave an impression that A-bomb victims were made light of," Kyuma said at a press conference in Shimabara, Nagasaki Prefecture. Kyuma is a veteran lawmaker of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party.

Kyuma made the apology only hours after he had said earlier Sunday that there was no need to correct his comments. Kyuma was effectively forced to retract the remarks, bowing to mounting pressure from the LDP as well as A-bomb victims and opposition parties.

In a speech Saturday in Kashiwa, east of Tokyo, Kyuma said, "I understand the bombings brought the war to its end. I think it was something that couldn't be helped."

The LDP is concerned about the possible adverse impact of the remarks on the July 29 upper house election. Abe's government has been already hit by a fiasco connected to pension records and other scandals.

At the press conference, Kyuma, who is the first chief of the Defense Ministry, which was upgraded from the defense agency in January, said, "The comments, as reported by the media, were inappropriate."

He repeated that he had had no intention of justifying the atomic bombings, saying he has consistently stuck to the position of pursuing nuclear disarmament.

LDP Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa spoke to Kyuma by telephone Sunday before the press conference and told him to withdraw his remarks as they were misinterpreted, according to LDP officials.

Appearing on TV programs Sunday morning, senior officials from the LDP and its ruling coalition partner, the New Komeito party, also criticized Kyuma for his remarks.

LDP policy chief Shoichi Nakagawa said, "If the remarks were misinterpreted, Kyuma should explain and make an apology if necessary."

New Komeito policy chief Tetsuo Saito said a cabinet minister should not have made such comments.