Japan minister resigns after criticism over death penalty remarks

Japan's justice minister stepped down on Friday after facing criticism for reportedly saying his "low-profile" position only generates media coverage when he approves the death penalty.

Yasuhiro Hanashi's resignation serves a further blow to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's government, which is already facing plummeting approval ratings.

And it comes just weeks after the minister for economic revitalisation quit following scrutiny over his links to the Unification Church.

Hanashi reportedly said at a party with lawmakers this week that his job was "a low-profile position that only makes headlines on the midday news after giving the stamp of approval for the death penalty in the morning".

Japan is one of the few developed countries to retain the death penalty, and public support for capital punishment remains high despite international criticism.

As he announced his resignation on Friday, Hanashi -- who has been in the post since August, and has not overseen any executions -- said he had spoken "carelessly".

Kishida had been due to leave in the afternoon for a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Cambodia, but he delayed his departure until 1 am to appoint a replacement for Hanashi.

"I take my own responsibility for appointing him in the first place seriously. By tackling challenges ahead, I would like to fulfil my duties," Kishida said.

The government's low approval ratings are partly due to controversy over politicians' ties to the Unification Church.

The sect has been in the spotlight since reports emerged that the man accused of killing former prime minister Shinzo Abe resented the organisation over donations his mother made that bankrupted the family.

The church, officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, has denied wrongdoing.

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