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Third Japanese cabinet minister in a month resigns in blow for prime minister

TOKYO Japan’s interior minister resigned on Sunday over a funding scandal. He is the third cabinet member to leave in less than a month, a major blow to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s already weak support.

Kishida’s approval ratings have plummeted after the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in July exposed deep and long-standing ties between ruling politicians from the Liberal Democratic Party and the Unification Church, a group critics say is a cult.

Interior Minister Minoru Terada tendered his resignation to Kishida after media reports emerged that the prime minister was preparing to sack him. Kishida’s office could not be reached for comment on those reports.

Terada, under fire over several funding scandals, has acknowledged that one of its support groups submitted funding documentation purportedly signed by a dead person.

Kishida said he accepted Terada’s resignation to prioritize parliamentary debates, including discussions about a second additional budget for the fiscal year ending in March.

Asked about the fact that three ministers have resigned since Oct. 24, Kishida said he would like to apologize.

“I feel a heavy responsibility,” he told reporters, adding that he planned to formally name Terada’s successor early Monday. He is likely to nominate Takeaki Matsumoto, a former foreign minister, public television NHK said.

Terada’s departure could further weaken the embattled prime minister, whose support rates have remained below 30% in several recent polls, a level that may make it difficult for him to carry out his political agenda.

Having led the LDP to an election victory days after Abe was shot on the campaign trail, Kishida was widely expected to enjoy a “golden three years” with no need for a national election until 2025.

Abe’s suspected killer said his mother was bankrupted by the Unification Church and blamed Abe for promoting it. The LDP has acknowledged that many legislators have ties to the church, but no organizational ties to the party.

A vast majority of voters also disapproved of Kishida’s decision to hold a state funeral for Abe in late September.

Economic Revitalization Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa resigned on Oct. 24 over his ties to the religious group, and Kishida came under fire for what voters saw as his late and clumsy handling of the situation.

Further damage came from the resignation of Justice Minister Yasuhiro Hanashi in mid-November over comments seen as clarifying his job responsibilities, particularly authorizing executions.

Hanashi and Terada’s resignations will probably be particularly painful because they were members of Kishida’s faction in the LDP.

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