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Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara said Tuesday he has been hearing “rumors” that a bomb found in the garage of Deputy Foreign Minister Hitoshi Tanaka in September was placed by people seeking to discredit hardliners on North Korean issues — like the governor himself.

“The bomb did not explode, even though it was complete with a fuse. . . . It is widely rumored that somebody who is critical of us did it to attract sympathy,” Ishihara told a gathering in Tokyo.

The gathering was organized by supporters of people whose families were abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.

Police found a bomb Sept. 10 in Tanaka’s Tokyo home. He is a key Foreign Ministry official for negotiations and policymaking on North Korea.

Immediately after the incident, Ishihara, known as a hardliner on North Korea, stirred up controversy by saying Tanaka “deserved” the bomb threat and that the act reflects public anger toward the bureaucrat’s stance on North Korean relations.

Tanaka’s secretive approach and emphasis on dialogue with Pyongyang has often been criticized as being soft.

During Tuesday’s gathering, Ishihara repeated his criticism that the Foreign Ministry and Tanaka are reluctant to impose economic sanctions on the North.

He also cited an incident in which Tanaka, when compiling the record of talks between Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and U.S. President George W. Bush in May on how the two countries should deal with North Korea, tried to strike from the document any mention of adding “pressure” on the reclusive state.

Ishihara claimed that Tanaka’s action amounted to a “breach of trust” as a government bureaucrat.

“He is unfit for the job and should be replaced, just like (Japan Highway Public Corp.) President Haruho Fujii,” Ishihara told the gathering.

Other participants at the gathering pressed the government to impose economic sanctions on North Korea to resolve the abductions issue.

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