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Finance Minister Masajuro Shiokawa, who has a history of putting his foot in his mouth, blundered again Friday by stating that the unemployment rate’s rise to a record 5.5 percent in December was “good news.”

“The December unemployment rate rose 0.2 percentage point to 5.5 percent,” Shiokawa told reporters. “I think this is good news.”

Minutes later, he admitted that he had made a mistake, going on to say that the small improvement in the ratio of job offers to job-seekers in December, which edged up 0.01 point from November to a seasonally adjusted 0.58, was a good sign.

This ratio means there were 58 jobs being offered for for every 100 job-seekers.

“I think some industries with vitality are regaining their strength,” Shiokawa said.

“I think the economy has, to a certain extent, hit bottom and is moving toward an upward trend.”

Shiokawa, 81, is no stranger to verbal gaffes. He provoked currency-market turmoil in July, when he stated that he wanted to prevent the dollar from falling to a low marked shortly after the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

The yen surged following this rare allusion by a finance minister toward a specific exchange rate level.

During a September visit to Washington for a meeting of the Group of Seven industrial powers, Shiokawa stirred confusion by making contradictory remarks to reporters on whether Japan should take the controversial step of injecting taxpayers’ money into private banks.

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