Japan's defence minister to resign over scandal: media

Tokyo (AFP) - Japan's defence minister Tomomi Inada will resign over an alleged coverup involving military documents, local media reported on Thursday, potentially dealing a fresh political blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Public broadcaster NHK reported that Inada, 58, will submit her resignation to Abe as early as Friday before a cabinet reshuffle expected next week.

Inada, a close confidante of Abe who shares his staunchly nationalist views, was appointed as defence minister in August 2016, a time when she was touted as a possible future prime minister.

But her nearly year-long stint has been characterised by controversy, including increasing criticism over an alleged ministry coverup of log reports filed by Japanese peacekeepers in South Sudan showing worsening security.

The troops, part of a United Nations mission, returned to Japan in May after five years.

Inada has staunchly denied any coverup, though she will reportedly resign to take responsibility for the issue, with results of an internal ministry investigation expected on Friday.

Abe, who became prime minister for a second time in December 2012 with a vow to rejuvenate Japan's economy, has seen his popularity plummet in recent weeks due to scandals and comments by members of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), including Inada.

Days before an election for the Tokyo municipal assembly earlier this month, Inada called on voters to support the LDP in the name of her ministry and the military.

The comments drew widespread condemnation, forcing Inada to retract her remarks, which were seen as a key reason for her party's unprecedently bad drubbing in the poll.

During her tenure, Inada delighted conservatives but drew domestic and international criticism in December when she prayed at a controversial war shrine in Tokyo -- the day after accompanying Abe on a symbolic visit of reconciliation to Pearl Harbor in the United States.

Yasukuni Shrine honours millions of mostly Japanese war dead, but is contentious for lionising senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal.

Reports of Inada's intention to quit came hours after the head of Japan's main opposition party announced her resignation, less than a year after becoming the first woman to lead the group.

The brief spell of Renho, who goes by a single name, was dogged by controversy over having held dual nationality and she was also unable to capitalise on Abe's falling popularity.

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