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UPDATED: 09:40, February 03, 2007
Roundup: Pressure mounting for Japan's health minister to quit
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Japan's opposition parties continued to boycott the Budget Committee meeting for the third day on Friday, seeking the resignation of the health minister Hakuo Yanagisawa over his remarks comparing women to "birth machines".

The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and three other opposition parties refused to attend the House of Representatives Budget Committee debates over a supplementary budge on Friday morning, following their absence in the past two days.

Yoshiaki Takaki, DPJ's parliament affairs chief, confirmed the major opposition's stance on boycotting the deliberations and again demanded Yanagisawa's resignation, saying that debating with a minister like that would "smirch the Diet."

The issue started when Yanagisawa delivered a speech on Saturday to a local assembly on how the low birth rate will affect the future of Japan's pension, welfare and medical systems.

"We cannot change the number of women aged 15 to 50. Since this means we have only a fixed number of birth-giving machines, we can only ask every woman to do their best per head," he said.

Though Yanagisawa immediately apologized for the gaffe, criticism came from all sides. A group of 16 female lawmakers urged on Monday in a protest letter that Yanagisawa resign, saying that his remarks treaded on women's human rights and were totally unacceptable.

Opposition parties also acted out. The DPJ, Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Kokumin Shinto (People's New Party) submitted a statement to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, demanding he sack Yanagisawa. The Japanese Communist Party made the same demand Wednesday in a separate statement to Abe. The boycott also came along.

Under mounting pressure, Yanagisawa has repeated apology. "I made a very inappropriate remark and deeply hurt the public and the most important part of womanhood," Yanagisawa told the budget committee on Thursday, "I would like to take a moment to apologize again from the bottom of my heart."

Abe has also offered his apologies several times for the minister's remarks but continued to say that he would not remove the 71-year-old minister as he had apologized and was deeply sorry.

With a gubernatorial election in Aichi prefecture and a mayoral election in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka prefecture to be held Sunday, the resignation issue has turned somewhat to a wrangling between the ruling and opposition parties.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki on Friday morning repeated the request that the opposition parties attend the budget committee debates. "No matter what the reason is (behind the boycott), I believe that for a legislature, the budget is an extremely important issue for deliberation," he said.

Even without the attendance of the opposition, the governing coalition is expected to push the budget plan through the House of Representatives Budget Committee on Friday afternoon, Kyodo News said. The Liberal Democratic Party and coalition partner New Komeito party together hold a lower house majority.

LDP Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa, Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma, Finance Minster Koji Omi, and other Cabinet members have voiced their criticism on Friday over opposition parties' refusal to discuss matters of national importance simply to stage a performance aiming at elections.

On Friday afternoon, some opposition lawmakers are scheduled to hold a news conference to present their views on Yanagisawa's remarks. A number of female lawmakers will also give street speeches to challenge the ruling parties.

Source: Xinhua

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