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Minister who denied being drunk resigns

JAPANESE Prime Minister Taro Aso's already shaky government was rocked yesterday by the sudden resignation of his finance minister over allegations that he appeared drunk after a recent G-7 meeting.

Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa, who has denied being drunk, offered his resignation after earlier in the day saying he would stay on until parliament approved the budget for the fiscal year, probably in late April.

"I have resigned," said Nakagawa, one of the most prominent members of Aso's Cabinet. "I decided that it would be better for the country if I quit."

"He made a difficult choice, and I respect his decision," Aso said.

The resignation was a huge embarrassment for Aso and a blow to Japan's efforts to deal with its deepening economic woes.

Economy Minister Kaoru Yosano will assume Nakagawa's duties, the prime minister said.

Nakagawa has been under fire over allegations he appeared to be drunk at a news conference following the G-7 finance ministers meeting in Rome over the weekend. TV footage showed him slurring his speech and look0069ng drowsy and confused.

Nakagawa has said he took cold medicine, which, along with jet lag, made him groggy.

His abrupt announcement, coming as Tokyo hosted United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was seen as an attempt at damage control, but some analysts said they expect the situation to get tougher for Aso in the weeks ahead.

"The scandal was so humiliating that Nakagawa's resignation will not be enough," said political analyst Minoru Morita. "The opposition will now shift their target to Aso, pushing him deeper into the corner."

Opposition politicians had lodged a censure motion against Nakagawa and demanded his resignation.

"He embarrassed himself in front of the world," said opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa.

Pressure for Nakagawa's resignation had been growing within Aso's Cabinet as well.

Along with a moribund economy and increasing joblessness, the scandal was the latest in a series of embarrassments that have plagued Aso, who has been in office only since late September.


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