- Associated Press - Sunday, March 6, 2011

TOKYO (AP) — Japan‘s foreign minister suddenly quit Sunday for having accepted an illegal political donation from a foreigner, dealing another blow to the embattled administration of Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

Seiji Maehara, 48, was foreign minister for just six months and was viewed as a leading candidate eventually to succeed Mr. Kan. His resignation furthers the high turnover that has plagued government officials in recent years and is likely to further erode public confidence in Mr. Kan — the country’s fifth leader in four years — whose public approval rating has fallen below 20 percent.

Japanese have grown disillusioned over the government’s inability to move ahead in tackling serious problems, from a lackluster economy and bulging national debt to an aging, shrinking population.

“I apologize to the people that I ended up resigning after just six months on the job, and for causing distrust due to a politics-and-money problem despite my pledge to seek clean politics,” Mr. Maehara said. “It’s truly regrettable that I caused such a problem because of my own mistake.”

His admission undermines Mr. Kan’s pledge to root out “money politics” after a veteran power broker in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, Ichiro Ozawa, was ensnared in a political funding scandal. Mr. Ozawa says he is innocent, but the party has recommended revoking his membership.

Opposition parties, which have worked hard to obstruct the Democrats’ attempts to pass the budget and move ahead on other legislation, likely will be emboldened by Mr. Maehara’s resignation.

The allegation of the illegal donation came up during a parliamentary budget committee meeting last week. Mr. Maehara initially said he didn’t know about it, but he later acknowledged that his office accepted a 50,000 yen ($590) donation from a longtime supporter, an ethnic Korean resident of Japan whom he had known since childhood, and apologized.

Japan‘s political funding law prohibits lawmakers from accepting donations from foreigners, even if they are Japanese residents or born in Japan, and opposition lawmakers demanded he take responsibility.

“I carefully thought about my political funding issue over the last few days, and I have decided to resign as foreign minister,” he told a televised news conference Sunday night.

Mr. Maehara did not say who would be succeeding him.

Atsuo Ito, an independent political analyst, said the resignation was inevitable to save Mr. Kan’s government from further trouble.

“If he had stayed on, he would have come under heavy fire in parliament,” he said in an interview with Fuji TV.

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