TV & Radio
Japan health min urged to quit for offending women
Tue Jan 30, 2007 2:50 PM IST
By Chisa Fujioka
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's health minister, under fire for calling women "birth-giving machines", was urged to quit by opposition parties on Tuesday, the latest furore to hit Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet.
The gaffe has been an embarrassment for Abe, whose support ratings are sliding ahead of an upper house election in July and who has already seen one cabinet minister step down over a political fund scandal.
In a rare show of agreement among the opposition, the Democratic Party of Japan and two smaller parties seized on the chance to attack Abe's leadership, threatening to boycott budget hearings in parliament if Health Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa did not resign.
"The comments violate women's human rights and show disrespect for women," Democratic Party leader Ichiro Ozawa told reporters. "They are inexcusable."
Yanagisawa, 71, who made the remarks in a speech to lawmakers at the weekend about Japan's low birth rate, has repeatedly apologised for the "inappropriate" comments.
A senior member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party well versed in financial issues, he was tapped by Abe to reform the country's creaking pensions system.
Abe said in parliament he wanted Yanagisawa to remain, but the health minister appeared to have upset even his fellow conservative members in his own cabinet.
"I myself am pretty much unable to have children, so that must make me a broken product," Sanae Takaichi, minister for gender equality and one of two women in Abe's cabinet, was quoted as saying on Monday.
Takaichi, like many close to Abe, shares his views about the importance of reviving traditional family values.
Hidenao Nakagawa, the LDP's secretary-general, said he was worried about the impact on the upper house election, while Abe instructed all of his cabinet ministers to be careful in their statements, Kyodo news agency reported.
Yanagisawa is not the only one causing headaches for Abe as the prime minister tries to push ahead with key bills in a session of parliament that started this week.
Defence Minister Fumio Kyuma risked damaging ties with close ally the United States last week when he said U.S. President George W. Bush had been wrong to start the war in Iraq.
The comments, along with controversial remarks about relocating a U.S. military base in Japan, came ahead of a visit by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney on Feb. 20-22.
Despite Abe's troubles, the main opposition Democrats are also struggling to boost their popularity.
The party is split over key policies, and one of its own lawmakers stepped down as upper house vice speaker last week after reports of a lapse in reporting political fund use.
In a newspaper poll last week, only 13 percent said the Democrats could win the upper house election under its leader Ozawa, while 44 percent said the LDP could win under Abe.