Japan finance minister resigns for health reasons

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TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama accepted the resignation Wednesday of the ailing finance minister, who was hospitalized for exhaustion while preparing stimulus measures to address the economic slowdown.

Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii, 77, tendered his resignation overnight, and local media initially reported Hatoyama wanted him to stay.

Fujii, who has a history of high blood pressure, spent several tough weeks late last year churning out a record 92.29 billion yen ($1 trillion) budget. The government is also trying to pass a 7.2 trillion yen ($78 billion) stimulus package.

He checked into a hospital on Dec. 28 for checkups and to get some rest. Fujii has stayed under the care of doctors at a Tokyo hospital but leaves to visit his offices during the day.

Fujii, the oldest member of Hatoyama’s Cabinet, will be replaced by Hatoyama’s deputy Naoto Kan, the prime minister said in a national address televised on public broadcaster NHK.

“Problems of health are inevitable,” Hatoyama said, adding that he had received a doctor’s report. “And so I have accepted his resignation.”

Hatoyama has said that passing the budget is his top priority this year. It cuts spending on public works but includes large expenditures on social programs like child support and making tuition at public high schools free.

Investors have shrugged off Fujii’s health problems. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average climbed to a fresh 15-month high Wednesday, gaining 0.5 percent, despite widespread expectations Fujii would step down.

Fuji had wanted to retire after the Democratic Party won the landslide victory in August, ending the Liberal Democrats’ longtime grip on power, but he stayed on to become finance minister.