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Japan's defense minister and one-time rising political star resigns

Posted July 27
Updated July 28

Japan's Defense Minister has resigned following allegations she helped to suppress the release of sensitive defense documents, the latest blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet as his popularity continues to dive.

In a news conference in Tokyo, Tomomi Inada said she submitted her resignation letter to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday morning, who accepted it. She stepped down the same day the Defense Department released its findings from an investigation into the alleged cover-up, which Inada denies she was a part of.

"I am strongly aware of my responsibility as defense minister to supervise Ministry of Defense and Self Defence Force. I would like to return my one-month salary and decided to resign from defense minister," she said at a news conference Friday morning.

Inada, once a rising political star, assumed the role of defense minister in August 2016 and was seen by many as Abe's successor-in-waiting.

Japan has never had a female prime minister, and Inada is only the second woman to serve as defense minister. The first, Yuriko Koike, was elected as the governor of Tokyo last year. She is also the first woman to hold that position.

Inada's resignation comes amid claims that she helped obscure internal records that detailed the danger Japanese peacekeepers faced in the war-torn nation of South Sudan.

The Japanese Defense Ministry said that logs of troop activity -- records which could have affected the debate on whether to continue the deployment of Japanese troops in the region -- were thrown away, but it was later revealed they were in fact preserved.

The Defense Department report, released Friday, confirmed the papers had been preserved.

Prime Minister Abe and Inada are both staunch conservatives and proponents of Japan taking a more active military role around the world. Abe has sought to revive the pacifist nature of Japan's Constitution, a highly controversial move due to the sensitivities surrounding the country's role in World War II and the occupation of Korea.

Series of scandals

Inada's resignation is the latest in a series of high-profile scandals to engulf to Abe's Liberal Democratic party -- and follows accusations that Abe helped fast-track approval for the construction of a veterinary school run by a friend.

Abe denied that allegation when asked about it in a session at the Diet, the Japanese parliament.

Before that, Yasunori Kagoike, an educator accused of using his clout to curry favor with Abe and his wife, told lawmakers under oath that he believes political intervention helped him secure a deal to purchase land from the government at a steep discount.

The Abes have consistently denied any role in the sale.

Kagoike was seen entering prosecutors' offices Thursday. Public broadcaster NHK said he was questioned for three hours.

Inada, who was tangentially connected to the scandal, told opposition lawmakers she did not have a relationship with Kagoike or or his company, Moritomo Gakuen, when she was asked about it in parliament.

But Japanese media uncovered court records showing Inada, a lawyer, represented Moritomo Gakuen during a trial in 2004.

She later confirmed she attended the trial in place of her husband, another lawyer, when their firm was representing the group and apologized for the mistake.

What's next for Abe

The first big blow to the Liberal Democrats came earlier this month, when they were soundly defeated in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election at the hands of Koike's party. That vote was seen as a bell weather for the national political mood.

Abe's Cabinet approval rating has continued to plummet, reaching a record-low of 26%, according to a poll conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper on July 22 and 23. Other polls have put the Cabinet approval rating in the mid-30s.

But the unpopularity of leadership in Tokyo isn't limited to Abe's ruling Liberal Democrats. Renho Murata, the head of the largest opposition Democratic party, stepped down Thursday, explaining that the party needed new leadership to attract more support from the public.

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