TV & Radio
Japan local polls may decide fate of gaffe minister
By George Nishiyama
Saturday, February 3, 2007; 9:30 PM
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's opposition parties on Sunday kept up pressure on the health minister to resign for calling women "birth-giving machines," as voting began in two local elections the results of which could decide his fate.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stood by Health Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa despite public outrage over his comments, but calls for his resignation are likely to grow within the ruling coalition should its candidates lose in both local polls.
The furor over Yanagisawa's gaffe is just the latest headache for Abe, whose popularity is slipping and whose leadership has come under question ahead of upper house elections in July following the resignation of two hand-picked appointees .
"This remark, not just as a politician but as a human being, ignored women's human rights," Naoto Kan, a veteran lawmaker with the main opposition Democratic Party, told a TV programme.
"In particular, since he is the minister in charge of policies to cope with the falling birth rate, when he puts forth policies ... it will be impossible for him to persuade women especially," Kan said, adding that Yanagisawa should step down.
The Democrats and other smaller parties boycotted budget debate in the lower house and are set to do the same in the upper house next week unless Yanagisawa quits.
On January 27, Yanagisawa told his supporters in a speech touching on Japan's low birthrate: "Because the number of birth-giving machines and devices is fixed, all we can ask for is for them to do their best per head."
He has repeatedly apologised, but refused to resign.
Japanese media say the candidate backed by Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior partner is leading in the race for governor of Aichi prefecture in central Japan.
The contest for mayor of Kitakyushu City on the southern island of Kyushu is seen as neck and neck between candidates backed by the ruling camp and the opposition.
LDP policy chief Shoichi Nakagawa said on television that while he wanted the health minister to stay in office to carry out policy, it was up to Abe and Yanagisawa to decide on the minister's future.
Since taking office in September, Abe has seen a cabinet minister resign for misreporting political funds and a point man on tax reform quit after reports he was living with a mistress in a government-subsidised apartment.
Media have reported that two other cabinet ministers were also involved in dubious reporting of political funds, although both have denied wrongdoing.
(Additional reporting by Linda Sieg)
Pressure mounting for Japan's health minister to quit