Japan minister commits suicide

A scandal-tainted minister in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet committed suicide on Monday, compounding problems for the Japanese leader whose support has slumped ahead of a July election.

It was the first suicide by a Japanese Cabinet minister since the days after Japan’s defeat in World War II, according to officials at the national library.

”This will have serious political fall-out, but at this point it’s hard to tell how much,” a government official told Reuters.

Agriculture Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka’s suicide came as Abe’s public support rate fell to its lowest level since he took office last September, due largely to voter anger over mismanagement of pension premiums that could short change retirees.

The dent in Abe’s popularity had already increased chances that his ruling camp would lose its majority in the election for Parliament’s upper house, his first big test at the polls.

Matsuoka (62), under fire for a series of political funding scandals, died in hospital after he was found unconscious in his room at a Tokyo residential complex for lawmakers.

Police said he hanged himself but declined to comment on Japanese media reports that he left a suicide note.

”I am overwhelmed with shame. I deeply hope his soul will rest in peace,” a visibly shaken Abe told reporters.

Matsuoka, who had repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, had been scheduled to be grilled again in Parliament later on Monday.

Critics had charged that Abe was protecting Matsuoka, and the prime minister’s image would likely suffer in the short term, political analysts said. But they added that the long-term fall-out could depend on how Abe handled the matter. — Reuters

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