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Opposition demands defense minister quit over SDF remark in stumping

Japan's main opposition Democratic Party demanded Wednesday that
Defense Minister Tomomi Inada resign over a remark it says amounts to
making political use of the Self-Defense Forces to attract support
for a candidate in the upcoming Tokyo metropolitan assembly election.

"Her comment, which conflicts with the SDF law, was out of line
and she should resign immediately," Democratic Party leader Renho
told reporters in Tokyo. "Prime Minister Shinzo Abe bears
responsibility for having appointed her."

Inada had asked voters to back a candidate of her Liberal
Democratic Party in a stump speech on Tuesday, saying the request
came from "the Defense Ministry, the SDF, the defense minister and
the LDP." Hours later, she told reporters she will "withdraw" the
comment because it could be "misunderstood."

The minister has said she does not intend to resign over the
remark.
Under the law governing the country's defense apparatus, the SDF
is meant to remain politically neutral and its personnel are
restricted in their ability to engage in political activities.

The LDP is hoping to remain the largest party in the
metropolitan assembly when Tokyo voters go to the polls this Sunday,
but faces an uphill battle against a new party formed by popular
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike. The ruling party is also under fire over
recent favoritism allegations against Abe in connection with a
university project involving a close friend.

Koike told reporters Tuesday the minister's remark was
"inconceivable," adding Inada should not have been confused about the
SDF's position.

Abe has cautioned Inada over the remark but asked her to stay
on, the government's top spokesman said Wednesday.

"The prime minister gave her the same instruction that I
did...(We) want her to fulfill her responsibility to explain herself
as a minister, and continue to perform her role," Chief Cabinet
Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference.

Suga insisted Inada's conduct will have no impact on the Tokyo
assembly election or on the timing of Abe's next Cabinet reshuffle.
The prime minister is thought to be considering a change in the
Cabinet lineup at some point later this year.
Renho, meanwhile, said Inada has no choice but to step down on
her own or be sacked by Abe.

The Democratic Party and three smaller opposition parties are
expected to agree later Wednesday to make a joint call for Inada's
resignation.

But a senior government official told reporters on Wednesday
there is no need for Inada to quit, because she "took back her remark
and apologized. That's the end of it."

A fellow Cabinet minister denied Inada needs to resign, but said
she "should have noticed and corrected her comment immediately
afterward." Suga said he instructed her to swiftly retract the remark
when she reported the matter to him over the phone Tuesday night.

A former defense minister slammed Inada as "not understanding
the basics."
"It's a taboo among taboos to involve the SDF in elections or
politics," the former minister said.

A source close to the prime minister's office, meanwhile,
suggested that Inada is not likely to be swapped out prior to an
envisioned Cabinet overhaul.

Abe made Inada defense minister in a reshuffle in August last
year.

She is set to take part in ministerial security talks in
Washington next month with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, U.S.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
(June 28)