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Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama resigns

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Japanese citizens were promised by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama that Japan would remove an American Marine base from their island. After reversing stance and deciding against removing the military base on Okinawa, the public hit the streets to express their rage. His betrayal split his ruling coalition and helped trigger his resignation.

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By Blaine Harden
Wednesday, June 2, 2010

SEOUL -- Having squandered a historic electoral mandate in less than a year, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama resigned Wednesday, leaving his Democratic Party of Japan without a leader before a pivotal July election.

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The kingmaker of the ruling party, veteran politician Ichiro Ozawa, also quit Wednesday, after his ties to fundraising scandals had soured voters on the DPJ's leadership. Sometimes called the "Shadow Shogun," Ozawa was the political mastermind behind a landslide victory that last August ended nearly half a century of one-party rule in Japan, when the DPJ trounced the Liberal Democratic Party and Hatoyama took control of the government.

Hatoyama's popularity collapsed, in large measure, because he could not make up his mind. He spent months sending contradictory signals -- to Japanese voters and to the Obama administration -- over where to put a noisy U.S. Marine airbase on the southern island of Okinawa.

His final decision, which came Friday, pleased the Americans, keeping the Marines and their howling helicopters on the crowded island. But it enraged Okinawans and left most Japanese voters with the impression that Hatoyama was an incompetent and vacillating leader.

"It is unfortunate that people have come gradually to not listen [to my government] and I realize that I am to blame," Hatoyama said, in announcing his resignation at a meeting of party leaders.

Polls in recent days have shown that support for his government had fallen to 17 percent. A small party -- a key to his party's control of the upper house of parliament -- abandoned Hatoyama's ruling coalition over the weekend.

Hatoyama blamed his handling of the Okinawa issue for his failure as prime minister. But he insisted that Japan needs a strong security relationship with the United States and said that his decision to keep the U.S. base was in the country's best interest.

"I hope you understand my pained grief that we must sustain trust between Japan and the United States," he said, noting that the March sinking of a South Korean warship, apparently by North Korea, shows that "security has not been secured in Northeast Asia."

At some point in the distant future, Hatoyama said, Japan will not need the security umbrella provided by the United States, nor will it have to accommodate the "burden" of hosting tens of thousands of Americans troops. But he said that "is not possible in my era" to secure regional peace without Japan's partnership with the United States.

When his party won power last year, Hatoyama and the DPJ had insisted that Japan needed to assert more independence from the U.S. government in shaping its foreign policy. His resignation -- at a time when North Korea's unpredictable threat appears to be growing and China's military power is expanding -- suggests that a new Japanese leader will not similarly test the country's security alliance with Washington.

Hatoyama, a wealthy man and the grandson of a former prime minister, said that his popularity and the support for his party were also undone by the issue of money. He had been linked to financial improprieties in fundraising activities by an aide.

"We strove to bring about politics that is clean," he said. "But it turned out that I had a former secretary that had violated the law . . . I am very sorry for creating great trouble to everyone, and for forcing the public to come to terms with why the head of the clean Democratic Party of Japan was involved in such issue."


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