• Kyodo

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Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka visited Maebashi on Saturday to apologize to the Gunma prefectural chapter of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party for a controversial speech she made during last month’s House of Councilors election campaign.

Tanaka visited the prefectural capital after the LDP’s Ethics Committee issued her with a warning Wednesday over the speech in the runup to the July 29 Upper House election. The panel ordered her to apologize to a candidate she was supposed to be endorsing and other relevant individuals for “inappropriate” remarks.

The outspoken minister met Takashi Sasagawa, head of the chapter and deputy secretary general of the party, and other chapter executives with a bow and said, “I caused you great trouble. I am really sorry.”

She also met with former LDP candidate Mayumi Yoshikawa, who failed to win a seat in the election, to offer a direct apology. At a later a press conference, she also expressed regret for her words to voters in Gunma Prefecture.

In the speech to endorse Yoshikawa in Maebashi on July 28, a day before the election, Tanaka asked, jokingly, “So what is this candidate’s name?” She also told Yoshikawa not to touch her when the candidate patted her arm, obviously as a joke. The remarks caused laughter among the audience.

The foreign minister was also in trouble for giving a speech at her next stop in Takasaki, another Gunma city, one hour before the scheduled time the same day.

The LDP committee ordered Tanaka to report back to it within two weeks.

Senior LDP lawmakers and the Gunma chapter officials had strongly criticized Tanaka, saying she damaged Yoshikawa’s chances.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Friday he told Tanaka to be careful about what she says, referring to her gaffe in Gunma.

“I told her to be careful in the future about what she says and she accepted that,” Koizumi told reporters after meeting with Tanaka at LDP headquarters.

Yoshikawa later said she accepted Tanaka’s apologies, adding with a smile, “This has finally put an end to my election (campaign).”

Although Tanaka spent only a few minutes with her, Yoshikawa said, “The length of time cannot be a guide to the depth of feelings.”

Yoshikawa went on to say that Tanaka took the trouble of visiting her by car despite the heavy traffic during the Bon holiday.

During a news conference, Yoshikawa also said Tanaka’s controversial speech was “powerful,” as she had expected. Commenting on Tanaka’s remark that she did not know the candidate’s name, after a pause, Yoshikawa said, “I take it as a joke.”

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