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Bowing to sharp public criticism over a string of scandals and the lavish lives of diplomats, the Foreign Ministry said Monday it has given up a plan to construct an indoor swimming pool at the new Japanese embassy under construction in Moscow.

The move follows earlier decisions to scrap plans for a tennis court and a sauna at the complex to appease the nation’s incensed taxpayers.

The embassy will have a basement, stand five stories high, and have 16,500 sq. meters of total floor space.

In total, the cost-cutting steps, which include scrapping the leisure facilities and using cheaper building materials, are expected to reduce construction costs by 600 million yen if completed by fiscal 2005, a Foreign Ministry official said. The total cost of the embassy is expected to come to 9 billion yen.

The latest step was taken after Ambassador Minoru Tanba justified a plan to install a 17 meter x 6 meter swimming pool in the complex by explaining it was needed to secure an emergency source of water.

The ambassador, reportedly a great swimming aficionado because of his almost daily swims at a luxurious hotel in Moscow, had been ordered by Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi earlier to return his free membership to the sports gym there because it was considered lavish. Giving up the pool could save the government 41 million yen if a water tank is installed instead, the official explained Monday. The water tank could also double as an emergency evacuation space. Although taxpayers may still consider the embassy’s projected 9 billion yen price tag high, the official defended the figure, saying construction costs in Moscow are particularly high.

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