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Koizumi sacks foreign minister Tanaka

Prime Minister Koizumi said Tanaka's conflicts were affecting diplomacy  

TOKYO, Japan -- Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has sacked his controversial Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka, saying her power struggles were stalling the passing of crucial budget legislation.

Tanaka, Japan's leading female politician and daughter of former disgraced prime minister Kakuei Tanaka, was dumped at a midnight meeting along with her deputy and main rival, Yoshiji Nogami.

''The priority is to resume Diet (Japan's parliament) proceedings without further disruptions,'' Koizumi told a press conference early Wednesday.

Koizumi said it was a "difficult decision" to sack Tanaka, but he had to bring the situation under control.

Koizumi also expressed concern over the myriad confrontations between Tanaka and ministry bureaucrats since her appointment to the cabinet post in late April last year, Kyodo news services reports.

These conflicts were preventing Japan's diplomatic activities from proceeding smoothly, Koizumi said.

CNN's Rebecca Mackinnon explains how Tanaka's feud with her deputy lead to the sacking
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"I wanted to normalize the debate over the budget. In this severe economic situation the budget must be passed as soon as possible. We must also think of our interests in diplomatic affairs," he said.

U.S. President George W. Bush is planning to visit Japan in mid-February, while joint events with China and South Korea are also scheduled for later in the year.

Japan will also jointly host soccer's World Cup with South Korea in late May, an event which rivals the Olympic Games as a global sporting event.

''The prime minister himself told me he will replace me,'' Tanaka told reporters Wednesday.

"I responded by thanking him for all he has done for me."

The catalyst for the sacking stems from a public dispute between Tanaka and her top aides which was effectively stopping critical budget bills from passing through the Diet.

The feud involved a decision to bar two non-governmental organizations from last week's donors' conference on Afghan reconstruction, Associated Press reports.

Feud with deputy

Tanaka told Parliament last week that her deputy, Nogami, informed her that a senior legislator pressured the ministry to keep the two NGOs out.

The lawmaker, Muneo Suzuki, denied the claim. And Nogami said he never told Tanaka such a thing.

Opposition parties pounced on the squabble, stalling a parliamentary debate this week on a $19 bllion supplementary budget with a relentless grilling over the conflicting claims.

Tanaka has been dogged by controversy from the first days of her appointment as foreign minister.

She once called the ministry a "den of devils, an evil place where conspiracies are plotted".

Her outspokenness earned her bureaucratic enemies, who fought back by leaking every action by Tanaka that could be portrayed negatively and by blocking her choices for new appointments and transfers in the ministry.

Popular with public

Despite many controversies, Tanaka proved popular with voters  

Despite the controversies, Tanaka, 58, is very popular with the Japanese public because of her willingness to take on the all-powerful bureaucracy. The foreign ministry was notorious for its use of slush funds and bureaucratic perks.

But even her allies admit her blunders have been damaging.

For example, shortly after she was appointed, she skipped a meeting with Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Richard Armitage, saying she was too busy reading up on her new responsibilities.

She also arrived late to a meeting with Iran's foreign minister because she was looking for a lost ring.

In addition, she contradicted her government's policy on relations between China and Taiwan and on a controversial history textbook approved by Tokyo that critics in Asia say whitewashes Japanese war crimes.

Tanaka's father, who died in 1993, was known as the "Godfather" of Japan's dominant LDP political party.

However, he was forced to resign as prime minister because of his links to the Lockheed defense scandal.

Koizumi said he has not decided on Tanaka's replacement. But Kyodo News Agency reported the prime minister himself would temporarily take over the post while he searched for candidates.




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