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Japan's defense chief Inada resigns over data coverup claims

Defense Minister Tomomi Inada resigned Friday to take
responsibility for a suspected coverup involving the daily activity
logs of Japanese troops serving as U.N. peacekeepers in South Sudan.

"I accepted (Inada's) resignation out of respect for her desire
to take responsibility for having caused disruption," Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe told reporters at his office, admitting his responsibility
for appointing her and apologizing to the public.

The decision by Inada, who is known for sharing Abe's
conservative views, comes just before a Cabinet reshuffle planned for
next week in which the prime minister was already widely expected to
replace her.

Inada's conduct is just one of many factors in a recent plunge
in approval ratings for the Abe Cabinet, so the challenge of
rebuilding trust in the administration remains after her departure.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida has been given Inada's duties
alongside his own until a new defense chief is appointed.

"We cannot allow there to be any gaps in our national security,"
Abe said.

Shortly beforehand, Inada announced she had tendered her
resignation to coincide with the defense ministry's release of
results of its internal probe into the handling of the logs.

"This issue has given (the public) an impression that could
damage their trust in the governance of the Defense Ministry and
SDF," she told a press conference.

"As the defense minister who directs and supervises the Defense
Ministry and SDF, I am acutely aware of my responsibility...and I
have decided to leave the role," Inada said.

The 58-year-old lawyer-turned-lawmaker continued to deny she had
participated in a coverup.

The probe did not conclusively find that Inada had a hand in
concealing the logs, but concluded other ministry and defense force
officials had violated the law relating to information disclosure.

Abe said the government will cooperate with any request to
further debate the probe's findings in the Diet.

Inada, a fourth-term lower house member, is the sixth minister
to resign since the start of Abe's second stint as prime minister in
December 2012. She had assumed the defense portfolio in the previous
Cabinet reshuffle in August last year.

In April, then disaster reconstruction minister Masahiro Imamura
stepped down for saying it was "a good thing" the March 2011
earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan rather than the much
more-populous Tokyo area.

Abe is considering picking someone with prior experience of the
defense portfolio, such as Itsunori Onodera, to succeed Inada next
week in a bid to regain public trust in the Defense Ministry and the
SDF, sources close to the government and ruling coalition said.

Inada had also come under fire for a remark she made ahead of
the recent Tokyo metropolitan assembly election in which she
effectively pledged the Self-Defense Forces' support for a candidate
from the Liberal Democratic Party to which she and Abe belong.

The comment was seen as contravening the forces' political
neutrality. The LDP suffered a resounding defeat in the election
earlier this month, with many observers blaming Inada's remark.

The government's top spokesman brushed off suggestions Friday
that Inada should have been fired earlier, or that her departure
could compromise Japan's ability to manage security risks amid
reports North Korea is poised to test-fire yet another missile.

"We have quickly decided on her replacement to avoid any
omissions in our handling (of security issues)," Chief Cabinet
Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference.

The coverup allegations have centered on whether Inada knew that
the GSDF possessed data it earlier said had been deleted, and whether
she approved a decision to keep this fact from the public.

The logs recorded the deteriorating security situation in the
fledgling African country and their disclosure last year could have
adversely impacted the government's push to continue the troops'
participation in the U.N. mission and assign them new, possibly
riskier, responsibilities.

The troops have since returned to Japan. The government decided
in March to end their mission, but insisted at the time that this was
not because of concerns about the security situation. (July 28)