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Minister in charge of Okinawa, Tetsuma Esaki, steps down after stroke

Kyodo

The state minister in charge of Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs, Tetsuma Esaki, stepped down Tuesday after suffering a minor stroke recently, the government said.

A seven-term Lower House member from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Esaki, 74, was diagnosed last week with having had a transient ischemic attack that caused temporary disruption of blood flow to the brain. He was hospitalized again Monday for additional checkups.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe picked LDP Lower House member Teru Fukui, 64, to succeed Esaki, the government said.

Esaki, elected from a district in Aichi Prefecture, assumed his first ministerial post in August. He dealt with issues related to Okinawa Prefecture, where the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan are located, and a group of islands northeast of Hokkaido controlled by Russia but claimed by Japan, which calls them the Northern Territories.

Esaki has repeatedly found himself under fire for his gaffes. Immediately after assuming the post, he said he would “read aloud” passages prepared by government officials to avoid making mistakes in responding to questions in the Diet, something ministers regularly do but rarely admit.

Earlier this month, Esaki corrected a remark after calling “Northern Territories Day,” which falls on Feb. 7, “Okinawa and Northern Day.”

The Northern Territories, called the Southern Kurils by Russia, were occupied by Soviet forces following Japan’s surrender in World War II on Aug. 15, 1945.