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Japanese minister sparks another row
Web posted at: 2/7/2007 2:5:21
Source ::: REUTERS
TOKYO ・Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's beleaguered health minister, under pressure to resign for calling women "birth-giving machines", sparked anger again yesterday by saying it was "healthy" for couples to want two or more kids.
"We have an extremely healthy situation where young people want to marry and want to have two or more children," Health Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa ・ who has apologised for his earlier remark ・told reporters.
"That is why it's important to have policies in line with such healthy hopes among young people," he added.
An opposition party leader attacked the remark, saying the minister had implied that others were unhealthy.
"We can't let it go just because he apologised," said Yukio Hatoyama, secretary-general of the main opposition Democratic Party. "He has ideas ingrained in his body and in his head, and they lead to comments looking down on women.
"He's now saying that having two or more children is healthy, which could be taken to mean that not having two or more children is unhealthy," Hatoyama said.
Yanagisawa kicked off a firestorm of criticism when he told supporters in a speech on January 27 touching on Japan's low birth rate: "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."
One opposition party official said the comment was a disturbing echo of pre-war policy under which women were urged to bear children for the sake of the nation.
Opposition party leaders called on Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki to dismiss Yanagisawa yesterday, but he refused, Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima told reporters.
The opposition leaders also said they would return to parliamentary debate from Wednesday, after boycotting budget deliberations as a form of protest, Kyodo news agency said.
"Of course we also think it is natural to take part in debate and exchange opinions, but the comment by the minister was so unbelievable that we felt we had to express our doubts about the cabinet," Democratic Party leader Ichiro Ozawa told a news conference.
The fuss over Yanagisawa's gaffe is one of a series of headaches plaguing Abe, whose popularity is already slipping ahead of a July upper house election because of doubts about his leadership abilities.
Abe has acknowledged that the remark was inappropriate but has said Yanagisawa should stay in his post to come up with policies to boost the rock-bottom birth rate, which has raised concerns about Japan's future economic growth.
Shiozaki, who seems to spend much of his time explaining his fellow cabinet ministers' controversial remarks these days, defended Yanagisawa.
"I think he was making forward-looking comments on policies to deal with the low birth rate, and not expressing his values," Shiozaki told a news conference.