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Lawmaker expelled from party over N. Territories war comment

Hodaka Maruyama explains about his remark made during his stay on Kunashiri Island, in this photo taken in Nemuro, Hokkaido, on May 13, 2019. (Mainichi/Hiroaki Honma)

OSAKA -- The Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) decided on May 14 to expel Hodaka Maruyama after the House of Representatives lawmaker mentioned war in connection with the return of the Russian-controlled Northern Territories to Japan.

The decision, made during a party board meeting, came after the party refused to accept Maruyama's written request to leave the party filed that morning following a call with party secretary-general Nobuyuki Baba.

In the comment in question made during his stay on Kunashiri Island in the Northern Territories, Maruyama, 35, said about the territorial dispute, "Unless we wage war, won't the issue just go nowhere?"

On May 14, Osaka Mayor and Japan Innovation Party leader Ichiro Matsui urged Maruyama to resign as a lower house member over the remark.

"He overstepped the line as a lawmaker," Matsui told reporters at Osaka City Hall on May 14. "He should resign (as a lawmaker) for making a statement that tramples down upon the actions taken by all the people who have exerted their efforts toward the return of the Northern Territories," Matsui said, referring to the four Russian-held islands off Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido.

"As party leader, I would like to offer a sincere apology," Matsui said. "His remark could adversely affect the Northern Territories issue," the mayor acknowledged.

The party is considering asking for meetings with Russian government officials and the head of a delegation for a visa-free exchange program between Japan and Russia to offer an apology.

At a press conference on May 14, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga labeled the gaffe as "extremely regrettable," but added that "Japan's policy to seek settlement of the Northern Territories issue through diplomatic negotiations remains unchanged."

Suga slammed Maruyama's comment, saying, "His statement is completely different from the government's position." Nevertheless, the top government spokesman offered his view that the lawmaker's faux pas "would not impact Japan-Russia negotiations."

Mitsuhiro Miyakoshi, minister of state for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs, explained the incident at a press conference, "A lawmaker who took part in a visa-free exchange program as a delegation member got very drunk and got into a quarrel with another member." The minister blasted Maruyama's remark, saying, "It is grossly inappropriate. From the standpoint of the Cabinet Office, his statement is deeply regrettable."

"His remark sent shivers down my spine, making me appalled to realize such a lawmaker exists," said Kiyomi Tsujimoto, Diet affairs chief of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, on the morning of May 14. Her comment came at the outset of a meeting with her counterparts from other key opposition parties. Attendants of the meeting agreed that Maruyama's remark was "beyond the level of a gaffe" and that the parties were going to closely watch the Japan Innovation Party's response to the matter.

Democratic Party for the People leader Yuichiro Tamaki lashed out at Maruyama's faux pas during a meeting with the press at the Diet building, saying, "It is deplorable. His comment undermines Japan's national interests and is out of the question."

A member of the Japan Innovation Party had told the Mainichi Shimbun earlier on May 14, "The content of his remark is inexcusable. Our party cannot defend him."

(Japanese original by Toshiyuki Mano, Osaka City News Department, and Shinya Hamanaka, Political News Department)

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