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Published: Monday, 7/4/2011

Japan minister resigns over remarks about tsunami work


TOKYO — Japan’s disaster reconstruction minister submitted his resignation Tuesday after making remarks widely criticized as offensive during a visit to the earthquake-devasted northeast coast, where he refused to shake a governor’s hand, scolded the official and threatened to withhold aid.

In meetings with local governors over the weekend, Ryu Matsumoto appeared arrogant and uncaring, angering local residents and political opponents. He told the governor of Iwate, one of the hardest-hit prefectures, that the government would not help municipalities that did not have good ideas about rebuilding.

In talks with Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai, Matsumoto appeared annoyed that he was made to wait for the governor’s arrival. Matsumoto refused to shake Murai’s hand when he entered the room and scolded the visibly surprised governor.

“When a guest comes to visit, do not call up the guest until you have arrived in the room,” he told Murai. “Do you understand?”

He then warned journalists in the room not to report his words. They were widely reported in the media.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan appointed Matsumoto to the new post of disaster reconstruction minister last month.

The latest scandal is a new blow to the embattled leader, who faces lackluster ratings in public opinion polls for his handling of the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis.

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