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Japan minister hospitalized amid reports he would resign

/ 09:32 PM October 19, 2012

Japan’s new Justice Minister Keishu Tanaka speaks during a press conference at the prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo, Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda reshuffled his Cabinet for the third time this year Monday in hopes of boosting flagging public support for his government amid speculation that elections will be called in coming months. AP/Shizuo Kambayashi

TOKYO – Japan’s justice minister, who was appointed just 18 days ago, was hospitalized Friday amid reports that he was set to resign after he admitted having had links with organized crime.

Keishu Tanaka, a former labor unionist not known as a legal expert, was brought into the cabinet less than three weeks ago as part of a reshuffle aimed at shoring up Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s shaky administration.

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The 74-year-old politician skipped a cabinet meeting in the morning and was later hospitalized for tests after feeling unwell, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told an evening press briefing.

“I have been informed that he is expected to be discharged from hospital sometime after the beginning of next week,” the top government spokesman said without giving details of Tanaka’s condition.

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The new justice minister was forced to admit a yakuza connection after a tabloid magazine revealed he had once acted as matchmaker for a senior mobster.

Tanaka, whose ministry oversees the work of the courts, apologized and has thus far insisted he would not be stepping down, including at a parliamentary session where he was grilled on the links.

However, Japan’s print and broadcast media, which are usually well-informed on political developments — sometimes more so than the characters involved — were united on his impending downfall.

Previous political resignations have taken place ostensibly for “health reasons”; new opposition leader Shinzo Abe’s short stint as prime minister ended in 2007 under the veil of his hospitalization.

Noda earlier Friday did not respond to questions from reporters on whether he was responsible for having appointed Tanaka as justice minister.

Late Thursday, Tanaka told his associates that “I won’t resign. The relationship with a crime syndicate is an age-old story,” according to the daily Yomiuri Shimbun.

The yakuza are not illegal in Japan but, like Italy’s Mafia or China’s triads, are involved in a range of illicit activities including drug dealing, prostitution, loan sharking and construction corruption.

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Tanaka’s expected resignation would deal a blow to Noda, who is already faced with a shrinking majority and an opposition threatening to block a vital bond issuance bill.

Without the bill’s passage, Japan’s government could run out of money, officials have warned.

Opposition leaders are demanding Noda calls a general election, but commentators say lawmakers in his bickering party are keen to avoid early polls, fearing they will suffer in a national ballot.

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