Japan defense chief to quit over document cover-up

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Embattled Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada on Friday said she was resigning, after a series of gaffes, missteps and a cover-up at her ministry that have contributed to a sharp plunge in public support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

In the alleged cover-up, media reports said defense officials tried to hide logs containing references to worsening safety in the area where Japanese peacekeeping troops were repairing roads.

The fourth-term Lower House lawmaker is the sixth minister to resign since the start of Abe's second stint as prime minister in December 2012.

The resignations as well as that of Tetsuro Kuroe, the ministry's top bureaucrat, are expected to deliver a fresh blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government, already struggling due to tumbling support ratings. In April, then disaster reconstruction minister Masahiro Imamura stepped down for saying it was "a good thing" the March 2011 quake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan rather than the much more-populous Tokyo area.

However, daily activity logs revealed that Japanese peacekeepers recorded events of fighting between South Sudanese government and rebel forces.

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Japan's Kyodo news agency said former defense officials, including Itsunori Onodera, who served as defense minister for almost two years from 2012, are among Abe's main candidates to replace Inada.

A defense ministry spokesman declined to comment.

The logs described particularly tense situations in the fledgling African country and their disclosure a year ago could have adversely affected the government's push to continue the troop deployment and assign new, and possibly riskier, security responsibilities during the United Nations mission.

The ministry reversed its previous explanation, saying from early February that the information had been found on a computer of the SDF Joint Staff Office, and disclosing part of it.

He said Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida would add the defence portfolio to his duties, to eliminate any gap at a time when Japan faces tough security challenges, such as volatile North Korea.

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