Opposition: Kan lacks crisis-management ability

by Masami Ito

Opposition lawmakers spent Thursday badgering Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his Cabinet for “lacking crisis-management ability” and “being late” in responding to news of North Korea’s shelling of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island.

Two days after the artillery barrage killed four South Koreans, including two civilians, lawmakers spent the day arguing over whether the measures taken by the government were appropriate.

The prime minister’s office “was empty of someone in charge,” said Itsunori Onodera of the Liberal Democratic Party. “While we were watching TV holding our breaths, the prime minister’s office was empty for the first 70 most important minutes.”

Kan, however, said he acted appropriately, adding, “I don’t think I am mistaken in saying that I responded quickly.”

At a Thursday morning meeting of the Lower House Budget Committee, Kan said he first heard about the shelling at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Labor Thanksgiving Day holiday, and at around 5 ordered his Cabinet to gather information. He met with his ministers just before 9 p.m. after attending an event at the Imperial Palace.

Kan called the shelling “an extremely grave matter” that could have triggered another Korean war, and noted the government was “preparing for the unexpected.”

The shelling represented the first time civilian territory came under attack since the 1953 armistice halted the Korean War.

Onodera said no politician entered the crisis management center’s information liaison office for 70 minutes after it was set up in the Prime Minister’s Official Residence.

New Komeito lawmaker Yuzuru Takeuchi said the news agency Jiji Press reported the shelling at 3:11 p.m., but Kan wasn’t notified until 3:30 p.m.