National / Politics

Senior Cabinet Office official quits after downplaying U.S. aircraft problems in Okinawa

Kyodo, JIJI

A senior member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration has resigned after prodding a fellow lawmaker during Diet discussions about an emergency landing made by a U.S. military helicopter in Okinawa.

Fumiaki Matsumoto, a Liberal Democratic Party member of the Lower House, stepped down Friday from his post as a senior vice minister in the Cabinet Office.

During a full session of the Lower House on Thursday, Japanese Communist Party chief Kazuo Shii brought up a series of accidents and mishaps involving U.S. military aircraft in Okinawa, including emergency landings by helicopters.

Matsumoto asked: “How many people died?”

The opposition camp later criticized him harshly for making a remark that could be seen as downplaying the accidents, which have proven nonfatal so far.

The resignation is expected to deal a blow to the Abe administration ahead of Okinawa’s sensitive mayoral election in Nago. The ongoing plan to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan to Nago is a major focus of the race.

The recent U.S. chopper incidents include a window that nearly hit children when it fell from a transport helicopter and onto the grounds of an elementary school near the Futenma base.

“I feel sorry for causing trouble to the people of Okinawa and other citizens through my misleading remarks,” Matsumoto told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office.