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Deputy land minister quits over comment on favoring Abe, Aso

A deputy land minister tendered his resignation Friday after he came under fire for saying in public he made a special decision related to a road project to please Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso.
"I decided to take responsibility for having eroded public trust in government and caused a political stalemate," Ichiro Tsukada, a senior vice minister at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, told a press conference in explaining the reason behind his resignation.
The abrupt departure of Tsukada, 55, could become a headache for the Abe administration only days before voters cast their ballots in simultaneous elections to choose governors, mayors and assembly members across the country.
Pressure grew within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Tsukada to quit, apparently leading Abe to change his mind and accept his resignation to minimize any negative impact on the elections. Abe initially said the deputy minister should achieve accountability but can remain in his position.
The results of the local elections could also influence the outcome of the House of Councillors race this summer.
Opposition party leaders are expected to grill Abe, who initially defended Tsukada, in the remainder of the current Diet session, calling his resignation "too late."
In front of supporters for a candidate in Sunday's Fukuoka gubernatorial election, Tsukada, an LDP upper house lawmaker, said he had given special treatment to feasibility research on a road project designed to link the prefectures from which Abe and Aso were elected, though without being specifically asked to do so by the two, a practice known in Japanese as sontaku.
At the gathering Monday in Kitakyushu, southwestern Japan, Tsukada recalled that Hiromi Yoshida, LDP upper house secretary general, told him in December that the project was meant to link Yamaguchi and Fukuoka prefectures, home constituencies of the premier and deputy prime minister, and that he "quickly got the message."
"I said I'd deal with it," said Tsukada, who formerly served as a secretary under Aso.
The road project was frozen in 2008 due to fiscal woes, but the prefectural governments resumed gathering traffic data in fiscal 2013 and have been receiving state subsidies from since fiscal 2017. In the fiscal 2019 budget, the central government allocated research funds for it.
Similar allegations have haunted the Abe administration, with suspicions that senior bureaucrats gave special treatment to school operators who have ties with Abe and his wife Akie in a land purchase and approval of a vet school project.


© KYODO
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