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Japan's Scandal-Hit Agriculture Minister Resigns

Japan's scandal-embroiled agriculture minister stepped down Wednesday to take responsibility for a shattering election defeat for the ruling party.

"There is no doubt about the cause of the ruling party's election loss. I feel very sorry, and I have decided to step down," Agriculture Minister Norihiko Akagi said on nationally televised news.

Akagi had been hit by an embarrassing accounting scandal, which was widely viewed as a major reason behind the ruling Liberal Democrats' devastating defeat in Sunday's nationwide elections.

The Democrats won a landslide, emerging as the top party in the 242-seat upper house of parliament for the first time ever. Criticism had been growing against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration.

Public support for Abe's Cabinet had tumbled to an all-time low since he took office in September, to 26% from 30% in a similar poll taken earlier this month, according to nationwide telephone survey released Wednesday by the Asahi newspaper. Those saying they disapproved of the Cabinet climbed to 60% from 56%.

Although the Liberal Democratic Party suffered one of its worst election defeats in its almost continuous five-decade rule over Japan, Abe has refused to step down to take responsibility for the defeat.

The Asahi poll found sentiments were divided over whether Abe should stay on. Respondents calling for his resignation at 47% slightly exceeded those saying he should keep his job at 40%.

Results were similar in a poll by Japan's largest newspaper Yomiuri, with 44% support for Abe's staying in power, while 45% said he should quit.

Akagi is suspected of reporting 90 million yen (US$729,100) in office expenses over the past decade for a political office that was registered at his parents' address and was defunct.

Akagi took office in June, replacing his predecessor, who committed suicide following money and bribery scandals. Akagi had denied any wrongdoing.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki told reporters Akagi had tendered his resignation, and that it was accepted.