Japan's Prime Minister Resigns

At a surprise news conference Monday night in Tokyo, Japan's widely unpopular prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, announced his resignation after less than a year in office.

Fukuda, who assumed the office last September when his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, suddenly resigned citing health reasons, said he had stepped into "difficult situations" when he took office.

"I felt it was a good time for me to step down to avoid any political gridlock in the upcoming diet [parliamentary] session," Fukuda said. "I want to pave the way for the new leadership so we would stand a better chance of passing important bills including a comprehensive economic package."

Fukuda said he made the decision to step down over the weekend -- after his ruling Liberal Democratic Party drew up some key policies.

They include the comprehensive economic bill which is worth 11.7 trillion yen ($106.3 billion) and the consumer protection bill to help the nation tackle issues such as rising consumer and oil prices.

He said new policies must be adopted under a new leadership.

"I understand I have not seen those measures becoming bills, but I was able to see the general directions of where they should go," he said.

The ruling LDP has been plagued by a number of political scandals -- such as allegations of contractor payoffs at the Defense Ministry and misplacement of pension records for millions of Japanese.

In an attempt to revamp his administration, Fukuda reshuffled his Cabinet just last month.

However, a recent poll showed a continuing decline in his popularity. "A new formation of the cabinet should take place in time for the next diet session," Fukuda said.

"I would like my resignation to be a breakthrough for the country to take important steps."

The next parliament session is scheduled to begin on Sept. 12. The LDP will elect a new leader who will become the next prime minister.

Some analysts say former Foreign Minister Taro Aso is likely to succeed Fukuda.

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