• JIJI, KYODO

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The central government will withdraw its plan to ask alcohol beverage suppliers to suspend transactions with restaurants and bars that defy a request not to serve alcohol as a countermeasure against the coronavirus.

The government made the decision Tuesday after facing a barrage of criticism from the ruling parties and industry groups.

The policy reversal came after the cancellation of a separate plan to seek cooperation from banks in encouraging restaurants not to serve alcohol.

It was learned Tuesday that related government agencies had discussed the controversial plan to call for cooperation from banks before a Cabinet minister came under fire for remarks suggesting that the government would share information on noncompliant restaurants and bars with banks.

The series of policy reversals looks likely to deal a blow to the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, observers said.

On Tuesday, Suga, head of the Liberal Democratic Party, held talks with Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of ruling bloc coalition partner Komeito, to offer an apology over the remarks made by economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is also leading the government’s coronavirus response.

Speaking over the phone with Yamaguchi, Nishimura himself apologized for the remarks, which he made Thursday and retracted Friday.

At a news conference earlier Tuesday, Nishimura said that he asked for support from the Financial Services Agency, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Finance Ministry over the proposed request to banks.

Nishimura apologized for “causing confusion and anxiety” by suggesting the move.

“I failed to fully get across the point, so I feel sorry,” he added, while denying he would resign as a minister over the matter.

Nishimura said an official from the Cabinet Secretariat had briefed Suga and other members of his Cabinet on the plan to call on financial institutions to help enforce the alcohol ban.

It appeared to contradict Suga’s assertion Friday that he “had no knowledge” of Nishimura’s statements the previous day.

The government’s top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, said at a separate news conference the meeting with Cabinet members in question was on Wednesday, but there had been no discussion of specific measures.

Other ministers also distanced themselves from Nishimura.

Finance Minister Taro Aso said that such a request to banks makes no sense from a common sense standpoint if it is meant to ask them to cut off financing. Industry minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said that he had felt very uncomfortable about the proposed request to banks.

The confusion over government measures to address the pandemic has irritated LDP officials.

LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai, at a meeting of the party’s General Council, urged party members to watch every word they use so as not to cause misunderstanding.

The LDP is increasingly concerned that the policy missteps could adversely affect the party in the upcoming Lower House election, which must be held by autumn.

“Public anger has been accumulating,” a veteran LDP lawmaker said.

Nishimura would have had to resign over the remarks had the Diet been in session, a senior LDP official said.

Opposition parties are ready to grill Nishimura and others at off-session committee meetings of both chambers of the Diet to be held on Wednesday and Thursday.

“This is a problem not only for Nishimura but also for the entire administration,” Yukio Edano, leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said at a party meeting.

Yuichiro Tamaki, leader of the Democratic Party for the People, told reporters, “The whole Cabinet should be held responsible.”

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