8 Avril 2017
April 7, 2017
By NORIYOSHI OTSUKI/ Senior Staff Writer
Under-fire minister Masahiro Imamura apologized and mostly retracted the remarks he made over so-called voluntary evacuees at a tense April 4 news conference in Tokyo, as thousands of protesters demanded his resignation.
Imamura, who is in charge of rebuilding from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, offered the late apology on April 6 after facing fierce criticism from Fukushima evacuees and political rivals.
The same day, four Fukushima evacuees’ groups and their supporters jointly submitted a petition with 28,127 signatures to the Reconstruction Agency in the capital, calling for Imamura’s resignation as the head of the agency.
When asked about the government’s responsibility for providing assistance to the voluntary evacuees at the news conference, Imamura had said: “They are responsible for their lives. They can file a lawsuit or do other things (if they disagree with the central government’s position).” He also shouted at a freelance journalist who pressed him on the issue
He apologized for his outburst to reporters on the evening of April 4, but did not retract his remarks, saying he had made an “objective statement.”
However, Imamura made a U-turn on the morning of April 6 and offered his “sincere apologies” for his words on voluntary evacuees at a meeting for the Lower House’s Special Committee for Reconstruction after the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Imamura asked permission to speak at the beginning of the meeting, and offered a further apology to the freelance journalist he had snapped at and for becoming “emotional” at the news conference, and then explained the other remarks that landed him in hot water.
“’Their own responsibility’ was not the right way of saying it,” the minister said. “I meant to say that they have made their own judgment (not to return).”
Addressing his remark suggesting that evacuees can take legal action if they are unhappy with the government’s decision on the matter, he explained that he was merely “generally speaking” that “asking a court’s decision is an option when an agreement cannot be reached (between two parties).”
Protests against Imamura by Fukushima evacuees began in front of the Reconstruction Agency building on April 5.
The letter accompanying the petition handed on April 6 read, “His remark suggested the nation is renouncing responsibility (to help evacuees), and trampled on evacuees’ feelings.”
Referring to a law passed to support all nuclear disaster victims, the letter continued, “As the minister of the agency responsible, we must question his quality.”
A law has been enacted to support the lives of children and other victims of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant accident regardless of the decisions that victims make about their own futures, such as whether to move permanently or temporarily, or return to their homes in the affected area.
Asked by an opposition party member for his position on the resignation demand, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave Imamura his backing.
“I would like him to keep working hard for the speedy rebuilding of the disaster-hit area,” Abe said at the Lower House plenary session on April 6.