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New government gaffe on Fukushima anniversary

Japan marked six months since the tsunami that triggered the Fukushima nuclear crisis Sunday, a day after the trade minister resigned over remarks deemed insensitive to victims of the disaster, further embarrassing the government.


AFP - Black-clad mourners fell silent in a devastated Japanese coastal town Sunday, six months after an earthquake and tsunami left 20,000 dead or missing and sparked a nuclear crisis.

About 2,000 people observed a moment's silence at a public gymnasium in Minamisanriku in memory of 900 people who were killed in the March disaster, which also destroyed 60 percent of the town's buildings.

It was one of a string of events planned along the Pacific Coast which was ravaged by huge waves following the 9.0-magnitude tremor that struck 130 kilometres (80 miles) offshore at 2:46 pm on March 11.

"We never give up hope and vow to unite as one in building a new town so that we can make up for the sacrifice of precious lives of many people," Minamisanriku mayor Hitoshi Sato said at the remembrance service.

The destructive waves also sparked meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, sparking an ongoing nuclear crisis.

In Tokyo and elsewhere, rallies were planned to protest against nuclear power following the Fukushima crisis, the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

The six-month anniversary of the quake-tsunami came amid embarrassment for Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's new government after trade minister Yoshio Hachiro resigned on Saturday over remarks deemed insensitive to Fukushima evacuees.

After touring the Fukushima plant and the no-go zone with Noda on Thursday, Hachiro described the plant's neighbourhood as a "town of death."

Noda has pledged to boost recovery efforts but the resignation of one of his cabinet ministers will do little to stem a widespread erosion of faith in Japan's leaders following the March disasters.

The prime minister on Saturday travelled to ravaged Miyagi and Iwate prefectures for the first time since taking office last month, when he replaced Naoto Kan, who resigned amid criticism over his handling of the crisis.

The government has been criticised for its response to the disasters, amid suspicions it underplayed the full scale of the nuclear crisis, and as political infighting overshadowed recovery efforts.

Rebuilding the muddy wastelands of the northeastern "Tohoku" region is expected to cost hundreds of billions of dollars and take up to a decade. Areas close to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant may be uninhabitable for longer.

Radiation fears are a daily fact of life after cases of contaminated water, beef, vegetables, tea and seafood due to the Fukushima crisis. The government has been at pains to stress the lack of an "immediate" health risk.

The towering wall of water battered cooling systems at the Fukushima plant, 220 kilometres (138 miles) northeast of Tokyo, leading to reactor meltdowns and the spewing of radiation, forcing tens of thousands to evacuate.


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