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Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto announced Monday he will cancel his planned trips to France and the United States later this month.

Later in the day, Hashimoto called French President Jacques Chirac and was to also telephone U.S. President Bill Clinton later to convey the decision.

During the telephone conversation, Chirac offered warm words of encouragement and friendship to Hashimoto, government officials said. Hashimoto announced the same day he plans to resign to take the blame for his party’s drubbing in Sunday’s Upper House polls.

Hashimoto was to visit France and then the U.S. from Sunday for about a week in response to invitations from Chirac and Clinton. Hashimoto also told U.S. Ambassador Thomas Foley to convey the cancellation of his U.S. trip. Hashimoto reportedly said he had no choice but to cancel the trip because he has decided to step down as prime minister.

Foreign Ministry sources meanwhile said that Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi may also cut short his planned trip to China this week because of his emergence as a leading candidate to succeed Hashimoto.

Defense Agency chief Fumio Kyuma also canceled his visit to the United States because of Hashimoto’s resignation, agency officials said Monday. Kyuma was scheduled to leave Japan today for a six-day tour to inspect the Rim of the Pacific exercise (RIMPAC) off Hawaii.

The monthlong joint naval drill began last week, with Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, South Korea and the U.S. participating. China is sending senior officers as observers for the first time. Indonesia, Singapore and Peru are also observing the event.

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