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Under fire over a funding scandal, Hatoyama considers stepping down

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2009-12-25

Japan's Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama came under fire on Thursday over a funding scandal involving one of his aides but offered to step down if the public demanded his resignation.

AFP - Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama insisted Thursday he intended to fight on after a former aide was charged in a political funding scandal, but hinted he could step down if the public demanded it.
  
The indictment caps a difficult first 100 days in office for the political blue-blood, whose August election victory ended more than half a century of almost unbroken conservative rule in the world's number two economy.
  
"I feel grave responsibility," Hatoyama told a news conference after prosecutors indicted his former aide Keiji Katsuba for allegedly misreporting millions of dollars of donations.
  
"I apologise for causing trouble to everyone. I had no clue about the money."
  
Hatoyama said he wanted to continue as prime minister because resigning would "mean I abandon the responsibility I bear toward people who have courageously chosen a change of government".
  
But he also indicated he would consider stepping down "if there is an overwhelming number of voices" demanding his resignation.
  
Prosecutors said they had decided not to indict Hatoyama himself due to a lack of evidence that he was involved in any wrongdoing.
  
In June, when he was still opposition leader, Hatoyama admitted to sloppy account-keeping by his fund-raising body, which had listed the names of dead donors as well as people who later denied giving money.
  
The aide was fired before Hatoyama's election win over the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
  
The indictment is nevertheless a fresh blow for Hatoyama, who took office in mid-September with a vow to tackle wealth inequalities, curb the power of Japan's bureaucrats and pursue a more equal relationship with Washington.
  
A donations scandal forced Ichiro Ozawa, Hatoyama's predecessor as opposition leader, to step down from the post in May after his top aide was indicted, although Ozawa maintained his own innocence.
  
The premier, a Stanford-trained engineering scholar, has seen his cabinet's public approval rating sink below 50 percent, compared with more than 70 percent in his first weeks in office, according to recent media polls.
  
But the latest scandal is unlikely to deal "fatal damage" to his own political career because the ousted conservatives are deeply unpopular, said Takayoshi Shibata, a professor emeritus at Tokyo Keizai University.
  
"This case of course is outrageous but there have been false funding reports since the days of the LDP. People may have complaints about the government but also think it's better" than the ousted conservatives, he said.
  
The centre-left leader hails from a wealthy political family often dubbed "Japan's Kennedys" and has faced accusations that his family wealth helped bankroll his political activities.
  
Some of the misreported money came from Hatoyama's mother, the eldest daughter of the founder of tyre-maker Bridgestone, prosecutors said.
  
Hatoyama, a Stanford-trained engineering scholar, has seen his cabinet's public approval rating sink below 50 percent, compared with more than 70 percent in his first weeks in office, according to recent media polls.
  
He has been criticised by Japanese media for postponing a decision on where to move a key US military base, straining ties with Washington.
  
He has also backpedalled on a key manifesto pledge to scrap a petrol tax, reflecting growing worries about Japan's soaring public debt.

Date created : 2009-12-25

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