Japan’s Olympics Minister Yoshitaka Sakurada was today forced to resign for remarks that offended people affected by the massive earthquake and tsunami which triggered nuclear meltdowns in 2011.
Sakurada was the most senior Government official in charge of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics to be hosted by Tokyo but was effectively forced out of his job less than 500 days before the Games are due to start.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzō Abe has asked Shunichi Suzuki, the Olympics Minister before Sakurada took the post last October, to fill the vacancy, public broadcaster NHK reported.
Sakurada resigned after saying that Liberal Democratic Party politician Hinako Takahashi from the northeastern region, which was hit hard by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that triggered the Fukushima nuclear crisis, is "more important than the [region’s] recovery", when he gave a speech at a fundraising party.
The March 2011 tsunami killed around 18,000 people and swamped the Fukushima nuclear plant, sending its reactors into meltdown and leading to the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
More than 50,000 people have not returned to their home towns.
The Japanese Government have been trying to use the "Reconstruction Olympics" as an opportunity to help rebuild the country following the disaster.
"I’m really sorry for making a remark that could offend people suffering from the disasters," Sakurada told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office after meeting Prime Minister Abe.
"I felt I had to take responsibility and submitted my resignation."
In February, the 69-year-old Sakurada had expressed disappointment at swimmer Rikako Ikee's diagnosis of leukemia, suggesting it would dampen enthusiasm for the Olympics: "I'm really disappointed," and added, "I'm worried that the swell [for the Games] might go down a bit."
After accepting his resignation letter on Wednesday night, Abe expressed regret over the situation.
"I would like to apologise as Prime Minister,” Abe said.
"I bear the responsibility of appointing him."
Sakurada, who doubled as the Government’s cyber security strategy chief, also admitted last November that he does not use a computer.
Earlier this year, a survey carried out by the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun claimed 65 per cent of respondents said Sakurada was not suitable for the job.