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Months after disaster, Japan's prime minister resigns

SEOUL, South Korea — Japan's ruling party is expected on Monday to name a new leader, almost certain to become the nation's prime minister, following the long-anticipated resignation on Friday of Prime Minister Naoto Kan after his largely ineffective response to the massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

In a nationally televised speech, Kan announced that he was relinquishing his post as chief of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, or DPJ, effectively ending a 15-month tenure as national leader. Kan, 64, had said he would quit once lawmakers passed three key pieces of post-tsunami recovery legislation, the last two of which cleared Parliament on Friday.

Potential successors include Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Trade Minister Banri Kaieda and former Foreign Minister Seji Maehara, a security hawk who has proclaimed that boosting growth and phasing out nuclear power are among his top priorities.

The winner, who would become the nation's sixth prime minister since 2006, faces challenges that include continued rebuilding from the March disaster, forging a new nuclear policy and curbing a public debt that is already twice the size of the nation's $5 trillion economy.

The new leader will also need to mend fences with the United States over the relocation of an American military base on Okinawa. Kan recently canceled talks with President Barack Obama due to uncertainty over Kan's political future.

Radiation estimate

The amount of radioactive cesium that has leaked from a tsunami-hit Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant is about equal to 168 of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II, Japan's nuclear agency said Friday. The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency supplied the estimate at a parliamentary panel's request, but it noted a simple comparison between an instantaneous bomb blast and long-term accidental leak is impossible and the results could be "irrelevant." Cesium-137 lingers for decades and can cause cancer.

Associated Press

Months after disaster, Japan's prime minister resigns 08/26/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 26, 2011 11:54pm]

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