Japan's new prime minister on Sunday sent a ritual offering to the controversial Yasukuni shrine that honours the war dead but is seen by neighbouring countries as a symbol of Tokyo's past militarism. Fumio Kishida sent the "masakaki" tree offering under his name as prime minister to celebrate the shrine's biannual festival held in the spring and autumn, a spokeswoman for the shrine told AFP. Two of Kishida's ministers also offered sacred trees. Yasukuni honours 2.5 million war dead, mostly Japanese, who have perished since the late 19th century. But the central Tokyo shrine also honours senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal. Earlier this year, three top ministers paid their respects at the shrine on the anniversary of Japan's World War II surrender. But a Japanese prime minister has not appeared there since 2013, when Shinzo Abe sparked fury in Beijing and Seoul and earned a rare diplomatic rebuke from close ally the United States. Kishida's predecessor Yoshihide Suga made a pilgrimage to the shrine on Sunday, the spokeswoman said, while public broadcaster NHK showed footage of his visit. Suga had avoided visiting the shrine after 2012, when he became the Abe government's spokesman, and only sent ritual offerings when he became prime minister. Visits to the shrine by government officials have angered countries that suffered at the hands of the Japanese military during World War II, particularly South Korea and China. Kishida, who became Japan's prime minister on October 4, does not plan to visit the shrine during the two-day autumn festival that runs through Monday, Kyodo News reported, citing unnamed people close to him.
Child suicides in Japan are the highest they have been in more than four decades, local media have reported, citing the country's education ministry. As the COVID-19 pandemic prompted school closings and disrupted classrooms last year, 415 children from elementary to high school age were recorded as having taken their own lives, according to the education ministry's survey. The number is up by nearly 100 from last year, the highest since record-keeping began in 1974, the Asahi newspaper reported on Thursday. Suicide has a long history in Japan as a way of avoiding perceived shame or dishonour, and its suicide rate has long topped the Group of Seven nations, but a national effort brought numbers down by roughly 40 percent over 15 years, including 10 straight years of decline from 2009. Amid the pandemic, suicides increased in 2020 after a decade of declines, with the number of women committing suicide surging amid the emotional and financial stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic, although fewer men took their own lives. The education ministry said a record high of more than 196,127 school children were absent for 30 days or more, media reported. The results showed that changes in school and household environments due to the pandemic have had a huge impact on children's behaviour, NHK quoted an education ministry official as saying.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said yesterday he would do his utmost to lead Japan out of the Covid-19 crisis, while protecting its territory and people in an increasingly tough security environment. Kishida took the top job in the world’s third-largest economy on Monday, replacing Yoshihide Suga, who had seen his support undermined by surging Covid-19 infections. Daily cases have recently fallen and a long state of emergency was lifted this month. “I’m determined to devote body-and-soul to overcome this national crisis with the people, carve out a new era and pass on to the next generation a country whose citizens are rich at heart,” Kishida said in his first policy speech to parliament. A big early test for him will be leading his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) into a general election on Oct 31. The 64-year-old former foreign minister, who has a reputation as a low-key consensus builder, said the government would quickly put together a stimulus package to support those hit hard by the pandemic and take legislative steps to secure medical resources. He did not specify the size of the stimulus package in his speech but last month he suggested a sum of 30tn yen ($268bn). Earlier, Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki said he hoped to compile an extra budget to fund the stimulus immediately after the elections and have it approved by parliament by year-end. Kishida underscored the need to support those in need to win public co-operation and he called for cash payouts to companies hit hard by the pandemic. He also pledged to give cash payouts to so-called non-regular workers, families with children, and those struggling to make ends meet because of the pandemic. Kishida reiterated his resolve to overcome deflation and said he would press on with bold monetary easing, expeditious fiscal spending and a strategy for growth. “We will conduct fiscal spending without hesitation to respond to crises and make sure all possible measures are taken,” he said. On national security and foreign affairs, Kishida said he would protect Japan’s peace and stability. “With the security environment surrounding the country getting tougher, I will resolutely protect our territory, territorial waters, air space and the people’s lives and property,” he told parliament. Japan faces China’s rapid military buildup and aggressive maritime expansion, as the threat from North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes. Kishida said he planned to update national security strategy and aimed to bolster the coast guard and missile defence capabilities. On ties with giant neighbour China, Kishida said building stable relations and maintaining dialogue were important but Japan would not mince words when necessary. “While working with countries with which we share universal values, we say what needs to be said to China and demand firmly that it behave responsibly. We also maintain dialogue and continue co-operating with them in tackling common issues,” he said. China claims almost all of the energy-rich waters of the South China Sea, where it has established military outposts on artificial islands. It also claims a group of Japanese-administered islets in the East China Sea. Calling Japan’s security alliance with the United States the “cornerstone of world peace and prosperity”, Kishida said he intended to build on that alliance. The parliament session in Tokyo.
Japan’s new prime minister, Fumio Kishida, yesterday called a parliamentary election for October 31 and vowed to bolster the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, shortly after being formally confirmed by lawmakers in the top job. Kishida, a 64-year-old former foreign minister with an image as a consensus builder, earlier unveiled a cabinet line-up dominated by allies of former prime minister Shinzo Abe and ex-finance minister Taro Aso. “I want to ensure we implement large-scale, bold coronavirus countermeasures and economic policies. To do that, we must ask the people whether they trust me, Kishida, to carry out these policies,” he said at his inaugural news conference. “I would like to pursue a politics of trust and compassion with the people’s mandate,” he said, drawing on the main theme in his campaign to become leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), making politics more accessible to the public. While Kishida may enjoy a honeymoon period usually afforded to new governments, analysts said he probably didn’t want to lose time, given risks posed by the pandemic. His decision to call an election came as a surprise to most analysts who had expected the election to be held in November. The parliament will now be dissolved on October 14. Kishida said he would consider Covid-19 relief payouts, adding he had also instructed ministers overseeing the pandemic response to come up with policies on vaccinations, to strengthen the medical system and to expand testing to help reopen the economy. New coronavirus cases in Tokyo yesterday totalled 87, the lowest since November 2 last year. Kishida’s predecessor Yoshihide Suga enjoyed support ratings of about 70% soon after taking office a year ago, but came under heavy fire over his handling of the pandemic. Following Suga’s decision to make way for a new face, Kishida beat three contenders for the LDP leadership last week, paving the way for parliament to formally elect him premier yesterday. Kishida’s cabinet features allies of Abe, Japan’s longest-serving premier, who quit last year citing ill health as his dream of another term faded. Of the 20 posts, 13 were filled by people with no prior cabinet experience, in line with Kishida’s pledge to promote fresh faces, but many heavyweight jobs went to allies of Abe or of outgoing finance minister Aso. “He won the election with the support of Abe and Aso, so now it’s time for him to return the favour, it’s not the time for him to cut them off,” said political analyst Atsuo Ito. Aso’s replacement at the finance ministry is his low-profile brother-in-law, Shunichi Suzuki, who is viewed as likely to continue the government’s policy of tempering growth spending with fiscal reform. Kishida said he wanted to pursue policies that achieve “a new type of capitalism” that distributes more wealth to households and tackles Japan’s widening income gap, adding that tweaking the financial income tax rate — which is levied on investment income — was among options he would consider. One of those closest to Abe, former economy minister Akira Amari, became the ruling party’s powerful secretary-general. Amari, who has promised a big extra budget after the election, told reporters yesterday it would need to include steps to ameliorate social divisions and Covid-19. Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi, who is Abe’s brother, retained his position, as did Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, reflecting Kishida’s intention to continue Abe and Suga’s push to boost the nation’s security ties with the US while preserving trade ties with China. President Joe Biden congratulated Kishida, describing the US-Japan alliance as a “cornerstone” of peace and stability in the region.
After years of controversy, Japan’s Princess Mako will marry this month, but she will forego traditional rites and will not take a usual payment given to royal women marrying commoners. “Princess Mako will marry on October 26,” an Imperial Household Agency official said, adding that “wedding ceremony, reception banquet and other rituals won’t be held, and a lump-sum payment won’t be provided.” Princess Mako, who is the niece of Emperor Naruhito, has been engaged to sweetheart Kei Komuro since 2017. But the union has come under criticism, with the agency saying the 29-year-old princess was suffering complex post-traumatic stress disorder because of media coverage. Mako, the daughter of Japan’s crown prince, has endured years of sniping and stalling over her plans to marry Komuro, also 29. Japan’s imperial succession rules mean that Mako will lose her title after the marriage. But her partner has still been heavily scrutinised over allegations that his mother borrowed money from a former fiance and failed to repay it. After tabloid reporting on the claims, a furore erupted around the young couple in a country where the royal family is held to an exacting standard. The pair postponed their wedding, and Komuro moved to the US for law school in a move that was widely seen as a bid to defuse the negative attention. Crown Prince Akishino last year said he supported his daughter’s marriage, but that she needed to win the public’s “understanding”. However, the pair appear to have decided they have waited long enough, and are now expected to move to New York after marrying. Komuro returned to Japan earlier this week to a media frenzy, with particular scrutiny of his newly grown ponytail. Mako will become the first royal to forego traditional marriage rites and a payment — reportedly up to $1.3mn — since World War II, according to Japanese media. The tumult around her marriage, and the couple’s decision to move to the US, have made for inevitable comparisons with another royal couple: Britain Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The marriage news topped headlines, with several newspapers printing special editions to mark the announcement, but reaction online was divided, with some unhappy but others welcoming the wedding. “Congratulations. Imperial family members should have a right to make a decision on their lives,” wrote one Twitter user. The term “complex PTSD” was trending on Japanese Twitter, with some expressing sympathy for the princess. “It’s not surprising if she’s developed complex PTSD. There is no need to attack her further, is there?” wrote one person on Twitter. But others cast doubt on the announcement, with another Twitter user saying “this timing means ‘don’t criticise.’” Mako is sister to Prince Hisahito, 15, currently the only eligible male heir to the throne other than his father. Japan’s Chrysanthemum Throne can pass only to male members of the family, and the children of female royals who marry outside the aristocracy are not included. The strict rules have raised fears for the future of the royal family, with just two male heirs and no prospect of new ones for years to come.
* Japan's factory activity grows at slowest pace in 7 months - PMI * S.Korea activity increases but optimism dented - survey * Fallout from China's slowdown seen weighing on Asian economies Asia's manufacturing activity broadly stagnated in September as pandemic-induced factory shutdowns and signs of slowing Chinese growth weighed on the region's economies, surveys showed on Friday. Countries where large outbreaks of the Delta variant receded saw an improvement in activity, such as Indonesia and India. But factory activity in September shrank in Malaysia and Vietnam, and grew in Japan at the slowest rate in seven months, as chip shortages and supply disruptions added to the woes of a region still struggling to shake off the hit from Covid-19. China's waning economic momentum dealt a fresh blow to the region's growth prospects, with the official Purchasing Manager's Index (PMI) on Thursday showing the country's factory activity unexpectedly shrank in September due to wider curbs on electricity use. While the private Caixin/Markit Manufacturing PMI fared better than expected after slumping in August, growing signs of weakness in the world's second-largest economy are clouding the outlook for neighbouring Asian countries. "While coronavirus curbs on economic activity may be gradually lifted, the slow pace at which this will happen means Southeast Asian economies will stagnate for the rest of this year," said Makoto Saito, an economist at NLI Research Institute. The final au Jibun Bank Japan Manufacturing PMI slipped to 51.5 in September from 52.7 in the previous month, marking its slowest pace of expansion since February. Manufacturers in the world's third-largest economy faced pressure from pandemic restrictions and heightened supply chain disruptions as well as shortages of raw materials and delivery delays. South Korea's PMI for September rose to 52.4 from 51.2 in August, helped by an expansion in production and new orders. It stayed above the 50-mark threshold that indicates expansion in activity for a 12th straight month, but continued supply chain disruptions dented business optimism for manufacturers. Taiwan's factory activity continued to expand but at its slowest pace in over a year. Taiwan's PMI index eased to 54.7 in September from 58.5 in August, while Vietnam saw the index unchanged from August at 40.2. In a glimmer of hope, the PMI for Indonesia rose to 52.2 from 43.7 in August, while that for India improved to 53.7 in September from 52.3 in the previous month. "While regional PMIs showed that the disruption from large virus waves in the region is easing somewhat, unmet orders continue to pile up, meaning that the resulting shortages further down supply chains are set to remain for some time to come," said Alex Holmes, emerging Asia economist at Capital Economics. Once seen as a driver of global growth, Asia's emerging economies are lagging advanced economies in recovering from the pandemic's pain as delays in vaccine rollouts and a spike in Delta variant cases hurt consumption and factory production.
Two of the candidates vying to become Japan’s next prime minister denied yesterday they had toned down their positions on nuclear energy and gender issues to attract conservative backing in a tight ruling party leadership election this month. The winner of the Sept 29 contest to lead the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is almost certain to succeed Yoshihide Suga as the country’s next premier because the party has a majority in the lower house. Suga announced he would step down two weeks ago amid sinking approval ratings, triggering the leadership race between four candidates. They are vaccine minister Taro Kono, 58, former foreign minister Fumio Kishida, 64, Sanae Takaichi, 60, a former internal affairs minister from the party’s most conservative wing, and Seiko Noda, 61, a former minister for gender equality. Surveys of voters show Kono is their top choice, a key factor ahead of a general election due by November. But the social-media savvy, US-educated Kono, who has also served as foreign and defence minister, is widely seen as a maverick - an image that worries many veteran party members. Contenders need to attract votes from grassroots party members and younger lawmakers, who are more likely to be swayed by popularity ratings, while also garnering support from party bosses who remain influential. A Kyodo news agency poll showed on Saturday that 48.6% of grassroots party members surveyed support Kono, followed by Kishida’s 18.5%, Takaichi’s 15.7% and 3.3% for Noda. Long seen as a critic of nuclear power, Kono rejected the suggestion that he had flip-flopped on the issue. “What I’ve been saying about an exit from nuclear power is decommissioning quickly nuclear power plants that are reaching retirement and gradually exiting nuclear energy,” he said in a televised debate. “As I explained before, we should stop the use of coal, increase energy conservation and renewable energy and nuclear power can be used to fill the gap,” he added. Kishida, a more traditional LDP consensus-builder saddled with a bland image, was asked whether he had back-pedalled over allowing married couples to have separate surnames. Japanese law does not permit that option, and a change is strongly opposed by conservatives - including candidate Takaichi - on the grounds that it would undermine family values. Asked about the impression that he had earlier favoured the change, Kishida said he recognised diversity but that questions remained as to how to treat children’s names under a new system. “At least considering the broad understanding of the people, I think that discussion is necessary now,” he said. During a broad debate on topics ranging from Covid-19 to pensions and diplomacy, Kono called for dialogue with China amid growing concerns about its maritime assertiveness - a stance echoed by Kishida. “(Japan-China) summit meetings should be held regularly,” Kono said. “Perhaps, we should tell the Chinese leadership to exert their power as one of players in the international order, not in the way of expansionism.” Highlighting the predominant view emerging among politicians ahead of the general election, Kishida - considered the most hawkish on fiscal policy among the candidates - said he would not raise the sales tax rate for a decade and instead prioritise revitalising the economy over fiscal reform. The uncertain outcome of the LDP race contrasts with last year, when Suga quickly emerged as the leading candidate after Shinzo Abe quit citing ill-health after a nearly eight-year term that made him Japan’s longest serving premier. Party factions coalesced around Suga, Abe’s long-time lieutenant, and grassroots members had minimal say. This time, most factions are not unified and rank-and-file members will be apportioned the same number of votes as lawmakers. If no candidate takes a majority in a first round, a run-off between the top two will be held and grassroots members’ votes will be diluted, potentially boosting Kishida’s chances against Kono. Takaichi and Noda, both vying to become the country’s first female prime minister, are seen as long-shots, although Takaichi has the backing of Abe and other party conservatives.
Japan’s popular coronavirus vaccination minister, Taro Kono, yesterday announced his candidacy to lead the ruling party and, by extension, become the next prime minister, highlighting his image as an outspoken reformer with a conservative streak. Kono becomes the third candidate to throw his hat in the ring for the leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which opened up last week when Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he would step down. Kono, speaking at a news conference in Tokyo, portrayed himself as a reformer taking on Japan’s stodgy bureaucracy, underscoring his achievements in breaking down barriers during the vaccination rollout and promoting working from home. Known as a critic of nuclear energy, Kono sounded more cautious at the news conference, declining to be labelled “anti-nuclear”. He said nuclear power plants dormant since the 2011 Fukushima disaster, that are deemed safe, could be restarted to help achieve a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. But he said building new plants was “unrealistic”. “Nuclear power usage will eventually become zero, but if we are to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and work on preventing climate change, then we must stop the use of coal and oil first, and then eventually move away from natural gas,” said Kono. “We also need to save energy and then introduce renewable energy to the maximum extent as a priority. If there’s still more that needs to be done, I think it is realistic to restart nuclear power plants that are deemed safe,” said Kono. At times criticised for his short temper, Kono said he would be an empathetic leader who “laughs and cries together” with the Japanese people and would aim to create a “warm” country where everyone who worked hard had a chance to succeed. On foreign policy, Kono promised to strengthen Japan’s deterrence against “unilateral attempts to shift the status quo”. Officials have warned China over its assertiveness in the East and South China Seas. The winner of the September 29 vote of grass-roots LDP members and its lawmakers is virtually assured the premiership because the LDP has a majority in parliament’s lower house. Kono appears to have an edge over former foreign minister Fumio Kishida and former internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi who have also declared they will run. Nearly a third of respondents in a poll by major domestic media last week said the Georgetown University-educated Kono, 58, was the most suitable to succeed Suga. Japan must hold a general election by November 28 and LDP lawmakers are counting on a new leader to boost support after Suga’s ratings hit record lows, undermined by haphazard handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Kono, who has been in charge of a rocky vaccination rollout, has remained popular, particularly among younger voters. That is partly thanks to his ability to reach out to the public through Twitter, where he has 2.3mn followers — a rarity in heavily scripted Japanese politics dominated by older men less adept with social media. Kono said there should be debate on the possibility of giving the government the authority to impose strict coronavirus lockdowns, while on the economy, he said it would be difficult to achieve a 2% inflation target. “Inflation settles at a certain level as a result of economic policy. So the question is first of all how to make the economy grow,” he said. “The corporate sector has raised profits but that hasn’t spread to wages. I want to steer economic policy supporting individual citizens, rather than corporations,” he said.
• State of emergency extended until Sept 30 in Tokyo, other areas • Too early to lower guard: health minister • Outgoing PM regrets not having been able to secure enough beds Japan extended emergency Covid-19 restrictions yesterday in Tokyo and other regions until the end of this month to curb infections and prevent hospitals being overwhelmed. Announcing the extension, ratified earlier by an advisory panel, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said it was needed to shore up a medical system still stretched by serious cases even though new infections were falling and vaccinations were rising. “Inoculation of all those who wish to be vaccinated will be completed in October or November,” Suga told reporters. “And from then, we will be able to ease restrictions by using proof of vaccination or testing results.” Japan has been struggling with a fifth wave of the virus and last month extended its long-running curbs until Sept 12 to cover about 80% of its population. The number of severe cases and the strain on the medical system have not eased sufficiently in Tokyo and surrounding areas to allow restrictions to be lifted. The measures will now stretch until Sept. 30, including for Osaka in the west. Japan’s emergency curbs have centred on asking restaurants to close early and refrain from serving alcohol. Residents are being urged to work from home as much as possible and refrain from travel. “I believe we’re starting to see results, but it’s still too early to lower our guard,” Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said. Looking back on his time in office, Suga told a news conference that not having been able to secure enough hospital beds was one major regret. In a surprise announcement last week, Suga said he was stepping down, ending a one-year term as prime minister that has seen his support crumble as Covid-19 surged. “My days in office have been absorbed with the battle against the coronavirus ... I had a tough time securing enough medical care. That is one big point of reflection,” he said. With hospital beds filled to or nearing capacity, many people have been forced to convalesce at home, with some dying before they can get treatment. The Nikkei newspaper reported that the government was moving towards easing international entry restrictions by reducing quarantine times for vaccinated travellers. The move has been urged by Keidanren, Japan’s main business lobby, and foreign chambers of commerce. “We welcome any proposal to re-open Japan’s borders to business travel, as part of a science-based approach to preserving public health,” Christopher LaFleur, special adviser to the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, said. LaFleur said many of Japan’s top trade partners allow vaccinated travellers to enter freely and mandate quarantines of 10 days for those without shots, and that it was “reasonable that Japan adopt the same policy.” Local media have reported that the government may allow restaurants to resume regular business hours and alcohol sales as the vaccination push nears completion in October and November. About half of the population has now been fully vaccinated in Japan. Tokyo’s new daily coronavirus infections totalled 1,834 on Wednesday. Japan has reported around 1.6mn cases and 16,436 deaths but the death rate has declined in the latest outbreak. The 1% fatality rate compares with 1.6% in the United States and 1.9% in Britain. Shigeru Omi, Japan’s chief health adviser, said on Wednesday the pandemic fight was shifting to focus more on the threat of new viral variants or a possible decline in the effectiveness of vaccines. Japan PM Yoshihide Suga speaks during a meeting on coronavirus countermeasures at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo yesterday. People wearing protective masks in a cafe in Tokyo.
Japan’s outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will back the popular minister in charge of the nation’s vaccination rollout, Taro Kono, to succeed him, Nippon News Network reported yesterday. Political manoeuvring was heating up among potential candidates and ruling party grandees on Saturday, a day after Suga’s surprise announcement that he was stepping down, ending a one-year term as prime minister that has seen his support crumble as Covid-19 surged. Hours after Suga’s announcement, broadcaster TBS reported, without citing sources, that Kono intended to run for head of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Kono told reporters only that he wanted to consult party colleagues before deciding. Suga is expected to stay on until his successor is chosen in the party election scheduled for Sept 29. The LDP leader will become prime minister given the party’s majority in parliament. A former foreign and defence minister, Kono, 58, is popular among young voters after building support through Twitter, where he has 2.3mn followers - a rarity in Japanese politics, which is dominated by older men less adept with social media. Former foreign minister Fumio Kishida has already thrown his hat in the ring, while several others have voiced interest. With no clear front-runner, the stance of Suga’s predecessor Shinzo Abe will be closely watched, given his influence inside the two largest factions of the LDP and among conservative MPs, analysts say. Abe, who stepped down citing ill health last September after a record eight-year term, had publicly backed Suga’s reelection. With Suga out, Abe now supports former internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi, who is close to the former premier, TBS said. Takaichi, who would be Japan’s first female prime minister, had been seen as struggling to gain the backing of the 20 LDP lawmakers needed to run in the party race. Abe’s support could boost her chances. Kishida said he would leave the national sales tax at 10% if elected, reiterating that he would fund a new economic package worth tens of trillions of yen (hundreds of billions of dollars) by issuing more government bonds. “I’m not thinking of touching the sales tax for the time being,” Kishida told a Nippon News Network programme. “We then must consider Japan’s finances from the standpoint of how to make use of the fruit of economic growth.” Before Abe, Japan had six prime ministers in as many years. The Japanese government plans to extend a state of emergency in and around Tokyo until the last week of September in a further bid to contain the coronavirus epidemic, the Mainichi newspaper reported on Saturday. Japan last month expanded emergency curbs to cover about 80% of its population until Sept 12, but the number of severe cases and the strain on the medical system have not eased sufficiently in Tokyo and surrounding areas to allow the restrictions to be lifted. The government plans to extend them by about two weeks in Tokyo and neighbouring Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba prefectures, the Mainichi said, without citing sources. Under the state of emergency, the government has sought to reduce foot traffic by asking restaurants to shorten their hours and refrain from serving alcohol, and companies to let staff work from home more frequently. The extension would take the curbs through the fourth week of September, which has two public holidays and during which many people make travel plans. The government will also consider an extension in hard-hit areas in central and western Japan, including Aichi - home of Toyota Motor - and Osaka, the paper said, adding a decision would likely be made in the middle of next week. It will consider downgrading or lifting states of emergency in prefectures that have seen hospital beds free up to non-critical levels, the Mainichi said. Japan is battling its fifth and biggest wave of Covid-19 cases, driven by the highly infectious Delta variant. On Friday, new daily nationwide cases hit 16,729, with 63 deaths.
• Suga’s stepping down sparks wide open succession race • Former defence minister Kono throws hat into the ring-media • Former foreign minister Kishida already in the running Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in a surprise move yesterday he would step down, setting the stage for a new premier after a one-year tenure Covid-19 response and sinking public support. Suga, who took over after Shinzo Abe resigned last September citing ill health, has seen his approval ratings drop below 30% as the nation struggles with its worst wave of Covid-19 infections ahead of a general election this year. Suga did not capitalise on his last major achievement - hosting the Olympics, which were postponed months before he took office as coronavirus cases surged. His decision not to seek re-election as ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) president this month means the party will choose a new leader, who will become prime minister. There is no clear frontrunner, but the popular minister in charge of Japan’s vaccination rollout, Taro Kono, intends to run, broadcaster TBS said without citing sources. Former foreign minister Fumio Kishida has already thrown his hat in the ring. Before Abe’s record eight-year tenure, Japan had gone through six prime ministers in as many years, including Abe’s own troubled first one-year term. Tokyo stocks jumped on news of Suga’s decision, with the benchmark Nikkei rising 2% and the broader Topix hitting its highest levels since 1991. “I want to focus on coronavirus response, so I told the LDP executive meeting that I’ve decided not to run in the party leadership race,” Suga told reporters. “I judged that I cannot juggle both and I should concentrate on either of them.” He said he would hold a news conference as early as next week. Suga’s abrupt resignation ended a rollercoaster week in which he pulled out all the stops to save his job, including suggestions he would sack his long-term party ally, as well as plans to dissolve parliament and reshuffle party executive and his cabinet. He is expected to stay on until his successor is chosen in the party election slated for Sept 29. The winner, assured of being premier due to the LDP’s majority in the lower house of parliament, must call the general election by Nov 28. Suga has been an important ally for US President Joe Biden in pushing back against China’s increasingly assertive behaviour and he was the first foreign leader Biden welcomed in person at the White House in April. A State Department spokesperson said Biden was grateful for Suga’s leadership and partnership on shared challenges, including Covid-19, climate change, North Korea, China, and preserving peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. “The US-Japan alliance is and will remain ironclad, not just between our governments, but our people,” the spokesperson said. Suga’s departure will raise questions about the timing of an in-person summit of the Quad grouping of the United States, India, Japan and Australia seen as a means to counter China that Washington has been looking to host this fall. Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University, said Kishida was the front runner for the moment, “but that doesn’t mean his victory is assured.” Nakano said Kono, Suga’s administrative reform minister, could run if he gets the backing of his faction leader in the party, Finance Minister Taro Aso. Declaring himself a contender, Kishida, a soft-spoken Hiroshima lawmaker, on Thursday criticised Suga’s coronavirus response and urged a stimulus package to combat the pandemic. Former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba said he was ready to run if the conditions and environment are right. He was a rare LDP critic of Abe during his time as prime minister. Kono has led Japan’s rocky inoculation drive, but remains high on the list of lawmakers voters want to see succeed Suga. Kono has stopped short of declaring his candidacy, telling reporters he wanted to carefully consult with party colleagues first. A former foreign and defence minister, Kono, 58, is popular with younger voters after building support through Twitter, where he has 2.3mn followers - a rarity in Japanese politics dominated by older men who are less social media-savvy. Abe’s stance will be closely watched given his influence inside the two largest factions of the LDP and among conservative MPs, experts say. The LDP-led coalition is not expected to lose its lower house majority, but forecasts suggest the LDP could lose the majority that it holds on its own, an outcome that would weaken whoever leads the party next. “Stock prices are rising based on a view that the chance of LDP’s defeat in the general election has diminished because anyone other than Suga will be able to regain popularity,” said Toru Suehiro, a senior economist at Daiwa Securities. Suga’s image as a shrewd political operator capable of pushing through reforms and taking on the stodgy bureaucracy propelled his support to 74% when he took office. He initially won applause for populist promises such as lower mobile phone rates and insurance for fertility treatments. But removing scholars critical of the government from an advisory panel and compromising with a junior coalition partner on policy for healthcare costs for the elderly drew criticism. His delay in halting a domestic travel programme - which experts say may have helped spread coronavirus around Japan - hit hard, while the public grew weary of states of emergency that hurt businesses. An extra edition of a daily newspaper reporting on Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga deciding not to run for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election is distributed in Tokyo’s Ginza district yesterday. A large screen on a building shows a live broadcast of Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declaring a state of emergency for Tokyo and three neighbouring prefectures in a file picture.
A contaminant found in a batch of Moderna Inc’s Covid-19 vaccines delivered to Japan is believed to be a metallic particle, Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported, citing sources at the health ministry. Japan on Thursday suspended the use of 1.63mn doses shipped to 863 vaccination centres nationwide, more than a week after the domestic distributor, Takeda Pharmaceutical, received reports of contaminants in some vials. NHK, in a report published late on Thursday, cited ministry sources as saying the particle reacted to magnets and was therefore suspected to be a metal. Moderna has described it as “particulate matter” that did not pose a safety or efficacy issue. A health ministry official said the composition of the contaminant has not been confirmed. In a statement, Takeda said it asked Moderna to investigate the issue and that it would work with the health ministry to replace the affected vaccine supply. News of the contaminant could provide a fresh setback for Japan’s inoculation drive as it struggles to persuade many - particularly young people - to get vaccinated. Yesterday, eight more prefectures entered a state of emergency, meaning about 80% of Japan’s population is under coronavirus restrictions. The government reported nearly 25,000 new infections and severe cases at a record 2,000 for Thursday. The ministry has said the suspension of the Moderna batches was a precaution but it prompted several Japanese companies to cancel worker vaccinations and the European drugs regulator to launch an investigation. Airline ANA Holdings Inc said it had secured more Moderna supplies and would resume inoculations on Saturday after a two-day suspension of the shots. Spanish pharma company Rovi, which bottles Moderna vaccines for markets other than the United States, said the contamination could be due to a manufacturing issue on a production line. A spokesperson said the company could not say anything more while it was investigating. Moderna put the lot in question and two adjacent ones on hold. Another health ministry official said it would take “some time” to confirm how many shots from the contaminated batch had been administered in Japan. Kyodo News reported that at least 176,000 shots have been used based on its own tally of figures reported by municipalities. About 54% of Japan’s population has received at least one dose, according to a Reuters tracker. Taro Kono, the minister in charge of the vaccination programme, said he did not expect the contamination issue to have an impact on the government’s goal of fully inoculating the adult population by November.
Japan yesterday suspended the use of 1.63mn doses of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine, more than a week after the domestic distributor received reports of contaminants in some vials. Both Japan and Moderna said no safety or efficacy issues had been identified and the suspension was just a precaution. But the move prompted several Japanese companies to cancel worker vaccinations planned for yesterday. “Moderna confirms having been notified of cases of particulate matter being seen in drug product vials of its Covid-19 vaccine,” the US vaccine maker said in a statement, adding it put the lot in question and two adjacent lots on hold. “The company is investigating the reports and remains committed to working expeditiously with its partner, Takeda, and regulators to address this,” it added, referring to Japan’s Takeda Pharmaceutical, which distributes the vaccine in the country. A health ministry official said Takeda first found out about the contaminated vials on August 16 and reported the issue to the government on Wednesday. The delay was because Takeda needed time to gather information on which vials were affected and where they were in the country, the official said. Moderna said the contamination could be due to a manufacturing issue in one of the production lines at its contract manufacturing site in Spain. A spokesperson for the company added that the affected production batch, plus two more batches held back out of caution because they were processed before and after the affected batches, were meant for distribution only in Japan. Spanish pharma company Rovi, which bottles or “fills and finishes” Moderna vaccines for markets other than the US, said it is investigating possible contamination of Moderna doses and the issue appeared to be limited to a few batches bound for Japan. Shares in Rovi dropped 4.6%. The suspension is a fresh setback for Moderna, whose partners had production delays last month that disrupted supplies to countries including South Korea. Japan’s defence ministry, which operates a mass vaccination site in Osaka, said shots from the lot in question, which contains 565,400 doses, had been used in the western prefecture between August 6 and August 20, but it did not say how many people were affected. Japanese carrier ANA said about 4,700 shots of the halted Moderna lot had been used and all vaccinations planned for yesterday had been stopped.
Japan yesterday extended its state of emergency in Tokyo and other regions and announced new measures covering seven more prefectures to counter a spike in Covid-19 infections that is threatening the medical system. The current state of emergency, the fifth of the pandemic so far, was due to expire on August 31 but will now last until September 12. Tokyo announced 4,377 new coronavirus cases yesterday, after a record 5,773 on Friday. “The Delta variant raging across the world is causing unprecedented cases in our country,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said. “Serious cases are increasing rapidly and severely burdening the medical system, particularly in the capital region.” The emergency will now cover nearly 60% of Japan’s population with the prefectures of Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Shizuoka, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka included. Less strict “quasi-emergency” measures will be applied to a further 10 prefectures. Restaurants are being asked to close early and stop serving alcohol in exchange for a subsidy. Suga announced a fresh subsidy of 300bn yen ($2.7bn) to help businesses cope with the fall-out. Suga said the government would also request occupancy limits at department stores and ask people to reduce by half the times they go to crowded areas. Speaking at a news conference explaining the steps, the government’s top health advisor, Shigeru Omi, said Japan needed to come up with steps to “prod individuals to avoid taking action that could potentially spread infections”. He said that could be done under the current laws, which are mostly based on voluntary co-operation, but added that there’s also room for a nationwide debate on how to do this under a new legal framework. He did not go into details. Speaking beside Omi, Suga said the government would consider crafting legislation to swiftly prepare enough hospital beds for critically ill Covid-19 patients, and speed up vaccinations. Suga dismissed the idea of imposing a blanket, nationwide state of emergency, saying that would pose “excessive restrictions for some prefectures” that were succeeding in containing new infections. Japanese shares fell for a fourth day yesterday as concerns about the Delta variant overshadowed optimism about upbeat earnings. Japan’s case fatality rate stands at about 1.3%, compared with 1.7% in the US and 2.1% in Britain.
Nearly 2mn people were urged to seek shelter as torrential rain triggered floods and landslides in western Japan yesterday, leaving at least one dead and three missing. Authorities in seven regions, mainly in the northern part of Kyushu island, issued their highest evacuation alert as the weather agency reported unprecedented levels of rain in the area. Under the non-compulsory alert, more than 1.8mn residents have been asked to leave their homes immediately, according to public broadcaster NHK. TV footage showed rescuers towing residents through submerged streets on a lifeboat in the town of Kurume in Fukuoka, while a man who was rescued in neighbouring Saga prefecture said he had never seen rain like it. “This situation is different,” he told NHK. “I’ve had a similar experience before, but (this time) I was scared.” The government said 14 rivers had burst their banks and 14 landslides had occurred, mainly in western Japan. A 59-year-old woman died and two of her family members were missing after a landslide destroyed two houses in Unzen, Nagasaki, a local official said. “More than 150 troops, police and firefighters were dispatched to the site for rescue operations,” Takumi Kumasaki told AFP. “They are carefully searching for the missing residents, while watching out for further mudslides as the heavy rain continues.” A 76-year-old man was also missing in Kumamoto after he tried to secure his fishing boat at a surging river, a regional official told AFP. Downpours are forecast for several more days over a large swathe of the country. Scientists say climate change is intensifying the risk of heavy rain in Japan and elsewhere, because a warmer atmosphere holds more water. “Unprecedented levels of heavy rain have been observed,” Yushi Adachi, a meteorological agency official, told reporters in Tokyo. “It’s highly likely that some kind of disaster has already occurred,” Adachi said. “The maximum alert is needed even in areas where risks of landslides and flooding are usually not so high.” Strong rain last month caused a devastating landslide in the central resort town of Atami that killed 23 people, with four still missing. And in 2018, floods and landslides killed more than 200 people in western Japan during the country’s annual rainy season. A flooded road in Takeo, Saga prefecture.
The Japanese city of Nagasaki on Monday commemorated the 76th anniversary of its destruction by a US atomic bomb, with the mayor calling for the global community to build on a new nuclear ban treaty. Nagasaki was flattened in an atomic inferno that killed 74,000 people, three days after the nuclear bomb that hit Hiroshima. The twin attacks rang in the nuclear age and gave Japan the bleak distinction of being the only country to be struck by atomic weapons. Survivors and a handful of foreign dignitaries offered a silent prayer at 11:02 am (0202 GMT), the exact time the second -- and last -- nuclear weapon used in wartime was dropped. For a second year, the number of people attending was much smaller due to coronavirus restrictions. The ceremony is the first since an international treaty banning nuclear weapons came into force last year. "World leaders must commit to nuclear arms reductions and build trust through dialogue, and civil society must push them in this direction," Nagasaki mayor Tomihisa Taue said. The treaty has not been signed by countries with nuclear arsenals, but activists believe it will have a gradual deterrent effect. Japan has not signed it either, saying the accord carries no weight without buy-in from nuclear-armed states. The country is also in a delicate position as it is under the US nuclear umbrella, with US forces responsible for its defence. "As the only country that has suffered atomic bombings during the war, it is our unchanging mission to steadily advance the efforts of the international community, step by step, towards realisation of a world free of nuclear weapons," Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said at the ceremony. On Friday, Japan marked 76 years since the US dropped the world's first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, killing around 140,000 people. Barack Obama became the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima in 2016, but Washington has never acceded to demands for an apology for the bombings. International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach travelled to Hiroshima in July, before the start of the Tokyo Games, to mark the start of an Olympic truce -- a tradition that calls for a halt to global conflict to allow the safe passage of athletes. But city officials were disappointed after the IOC refused a request to stage a minute of silence at the Games to mark Friday's anniversary.
Japan on Friday marked 76 years since the world's first atomic bomb attack, with low-key ceremonies and disappointment over a refusal by Olympics organisers to hold a minute's silence. Survivors, relatives and a handful of foreign dignitaries attended this year's main event in Hiroshima to pray for those killed or wounded in the bombing and call for world peace. Virus concerns meant the general public were once again kept away, with the ceremony instead broadcast online. Participants, many dressed in black and wearing face masks, offered a silent prayer at 8:15 am (2315 GMT Thursday), when the first nuclear weapon used in wartime was dropped. An estimated 140,000 people were killed in the bombing of Hiroshima, which was followed three days later by the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. On Friday, Hiroshima's mayor called for leaders to visit the cities, and warned "experience has taught humanity that threatening others for self-defence benefits no one". Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga also delivered a speech in the city, but was later forced to apologise for skipping part of the text -- reportedly on Japan's support of international nuclear disarmament -- apparently by accident. International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach made a trip to Hiroshima before the Games began, to mark the start of an Olympic truce that urges a halt to fighting worldwide to allow the safe passage of athletes. But organisers stopped short of granting a request from bomb survivors and the city for a minute of silent prayer on Friday morning. In a letter, Bach said the Olympic closing ceremony would include time to honour victims of tragedy throughout history. "His letter didn't say anything about our request," Tomohiro Higaki from Hiroshima's peace promotion division told AFP. "It is disappointing, even though we appreciate that Bach visited Hiroshima to learn the reality of bomb victims," he said. Bach's controversial visit saw more than 70,000 people signing a petition opposing the trip and accusing him of seeking to "promote the Olympics" despite opposition to the Games. Yoko Sado, 43, strolling through the peace memorial park with her seven-year-old son, said the lack of visitors because of the pandemic had robbed Hiroshima of a chance to spread a message of peace. "I'm a bit disappointed," she told AFP. "It would have been a great opportunity." This year's ceremony is the first since an international treaty banning nuclear weapons entered into force last year when a 50th country ratified the text. The treaty has not been signed by nuclear-armed states, but activists believe it will have a gradual deterrent effect. Japan has also declined to sign it, saying the accord will carry no weight without buy-in from nuclear-armed states. But the country is also in a delicate position as it is under the US nuclear umbrella, with US forces responsible for its defence.
Belarusian Olympic athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya left Japan on a Vienna-bound flight Wednesday and was expected to head for Poland, where she has been offered a humanitarian visa. The 24-year-old sprinter had been expected to take a direct flight to Warsaw but switched at the last minute, an airport official told reporters. She boarded the flight at Narita airport outside Tokyo after travelling from the Polish embassy where she had spent the past two nights following claims her team tried to force her to return home after she criticised her coaches. Tsimanouskaya declined to speak to the media at the airport, and her flight took off shortly after 11 am local time (0200 GMT). The sprinter sought protection from Tokyo 2020 officials on Sunday, claiming she was being forced to return to Belarus, which has been wracked by political upheaval and a crackdown on dissent after disputed elections that returned strongman Alexander Lukashenko to power last year. Tsimanouskaya was one of more than 2,000 Belarusian sports figures who signed an open letter calling for new elections and for political prisoners to be freed. Her husband has now fled to Ukraine and the pair are expected to meet up in Poland, which is a staunch critic of Lukashenko's regime and has become home to a growing number of dissidents. Tsimanouskaya arrived in Poland's embassy on Monday evening following a night spent in an airport hotel. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Tuesday he had spoken to the "courageous" Tsimanouskaya, who is "currently well taken care of and safe". "I assured her that she can count on the support and solidarity of Poland. In the coming days, she will fly to Warsaw, where she will be able to thrive without obstacles and, if she so chooses, will receive further assistance," he wrote on Facebook. The International Olympic Committee has said it will investigate Belarus's Olympic team over the incident, but activists have called for the country's Olympic committee to be suspended and its athletes to compete as neutrals. Spokesman Mark Adams said Wednesday that the IOC had received a report from Belarus's Olympic committee, which was "being evaluated." And he said the IOC has opened a disciplinary commission "to establish facts in this case". NGO Global Athlete said Tsimanouskaya's "alleged kidnapping... is yet another example of the alarming athlete abuse occurring in Belarus". Lukashenko and his son Viktor have been banned from Olympic events over the targeting of athletes for their political views. Shortly before the Tokyo Games, Lukashenko warned sports officials and athletes that he expected results in Japan. "Think about it before going," he said. "If you come back with nothing, it's better for you not to come back at all." The alleged attempt to return Tsimanouskaya to Belarus has prompted condemnation, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accusing Lukashenko's government of "another act of transnational repression". Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, sparked international outrage in May by dispatching a fighter jet to intercept a Ryanair plane flying from Greece to Lithuania to arrest a dissident onboard. Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski seemed to reference that incident when he declined to confirm whether Tsimanouskaya would fly out on Wednesday as had been rumoured, citing safety. The Olympic saga came as police in Ukraine said a missing Belarusian activist, whose NGO helps his compatriots flee the country, had been found hanged in a park in Kiev. Police said they had opened a murder probe and would pursue all leads including "murder disguised as suicide", while activists accused authorities of "an operation... to liquidate a Belarusian who presented a true danger to the regime". The United Nations has called on Ukrainian authorities to conduct a "thorough, impartial and effective investigation" into the death.
Kai Koyama was standing outside Tokyo's Olympic Stadium as fireworks burst overhead during the opening ceremony but unlike many of those around him he wasn't cheering, but protesting. For months, polls showed strong opposition to the Games in Japan, which only grew as virus cases surged and the country's vaccine programme got off to a sluggish start. But since the opening ceremony, sentiment seems to have softened. More than half of the city's residents watched the opening extravaganza on TV and long lines have formed by the Olympic Stadium as people wait to have their photo taken with the Olympic rings. Japanese athletes have won a record number of gold medals and shops selling Games merchandise have reported a surge in sales. None of that sways Koyama and other long-time opponents of the Games, who continue to stage demonstrations, even if they tend to draw just a few dozen people. "Lives are more important than medals!" chanted demonstrators outside Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's office in Tokyo on one recent evening. Koyama was among them, urging Suga to cancel the Olympics and focus on Japan's latest surge in coronavirus cases, which has put Tokyo and other regions in a state of emergency. "I'm so angry," the painter, in his 40s, told AFP. "We are in an emergency situation... people are dying every day, but the Olympic Games are still going on." Tokyo 2020 is being held under strict anti-virus rules, with spectators banned from most competition venues. But Koyama argues that holding the event sends the wrong message and encourages people to flout restrictions and risk infection. He was outside the Olympic Stadium on July 23 when the shouts of protesters using loudspeakers could be heard in the nearly empty venue. "I felt powerless and angry when I saw the fireworks at the National Stadium that told us the Games had started, despite opposition from 80 percent of the Japanese public." Koyama has channelled his frustration into an art exhibition called "Declaration for the end of the Olympic Games", bringing together works by artists who oppose the event. Exhibits include the clay sculpture "Ruins", in which Olympic rings, an olive-leaf wreath and a hand are covered by pale sand. "There are athletes who perform with great skill, and people who enjoy watching, and I think that's a wonderful thing. But I feel people take the threat of the coronavirus too lightly," artist Sachiko Kawamura told AFP. Kawamura argues "the way money is spent (on the Games) is wrong". The government should be concentrating on dealing with the virus rather than spending on the Olympics, she said. While the virus has driven some misgivings about the Games, others in Japan opposed Tokyo's host bid from the early days, including 55-year-old painter Takatoshi Sakuragawa. He struggled to understand why the country was competing for the competition in the International Olympic Committee vote in 2013 when it was still reeling from a 2011 tsunami that left more than 18,000 people dead or missing and triggered a nuclear disaster. "I wondered why they were pouring energy into something like the Olympics even after our worst-ever disaster," Sakuragawa told AFP. The Tokyo bid committee said the Olympics would help rebuild the disaster-hit area through the "power of sports". But a poll in March among residents of regions hardest hit by the 2011 disaster found 61 percent disagreed that the Tokyo Games were helping reconstruction, against 24 percent who agreed. Only a handful of Olympic events are happening in the affected area, many without spectators. Koyama said he was shocked that Olympic organisers were willing to ignore public opposition, calling them "anti-democratic and dictatorial". And Sakuragawa said he was trying to avoid Games coverage even though he enjoys watching sport. "But whichever TV channel I turn on has them, so I'm kind of forced to watch."
A Belarusian athlete walked into a Polish embassy on Monday, a day after refusing to board a flight at a Tokyo airport that she said she was taken to against her wishes by her team. Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, 24, would seek asylum in Poland, said a member of the local Belarus community who was in touch with her. Polish consular officials did not respond to requests for confirmation or comment. Earlier, Polish foreign ministry official Marcin Przydacz wrote on Twitter that Tsimanouskaya has been "offered a humanitarian visa and is free to pursue her sporting career in Poland if she so chooses." The sprinter pulled up in front of the embassy in an unmarked silver van about 5 p.m. local time (0800 GMT). She stepped out with her official team luggage, and then greeted two officials before entering the premises. Two women, one carrying the red and white flag considered the symbol of opposition in Belarus, came to the gates to support her. In a brewing diplomatic incident on the sidelines of the Olympics, Tsimanouskaya's refusal to board the plane, first reported by Reuters, has thrown a harsh spotlight on discord in Belarus, a former Soviet state that is run with a tight grip by President Alexander Lukashenko. The sprinter, who was due to compete in the women's 200 metre heats on Monday, had her Games cut short when she said she was taken to the airport to board a Turkish Airlines flight. She told a Reuters reporter via Telegram that the Belarusian head coach had turned up at her room on Sunday at the athletes village and told her she had to leave. "The head coach came over to me and said there had been an order from above to remove me," she wrote in the message. "At 5 (pm) they came my room and told me to pack and they took me to the airport." But she refused to board the flight, telling Reuters: "I will not return to Belarus." She then sought the protection of Japanese police at the airport. The Belarusian Olympic Committee said in a statement coaches had decided to withdraw Tsimanouskaya from the Games on doctors' advice about her "emotional, psychological state". Belarus athletics head coach Yuri Moisevich told state television he "could see there was something wrong with her... She either secluded herself or didn't want to talk." Meanwhile, the Czech Republic offered asylum on Monday to Timanovskaya. Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek said his country was ready to welcome the athlete. "The Japanese authorities have just confirmed to us that the Belarusian athlete Kryscina Tsimanouskaya has received our offer of asylum," he said on Twitter, using a different spelling of her name. "If she decides to accept it, we will help her as much as possible. The Olympics are not about politics, the methods of the (President Alexander) Lukashenko regime are absolutely shameful," he said. Japanese and International Olympic Committee officials said the athlete was safe and was communicating with authorities. "She assured us and has assured us that she feels safe and secure. She spent the night at an airport hotel in a safe and secure environment," IOC spokesman Mark Adams told reporters in Tokyo. He added that the IOC would be "talking again to her this morning, to understand... what she wants to pursue, and we will give her support in that decision". UNHCR officials were involved in the case, he added. Japan's foreign and justice ministry as well as local police declined to comment. Timanovskaya alleged overnight that her team was attempting to send her home after she criticised the Belarusian athletics federation for entering her into a relay race in Tokyo without giving her notice. "It turns out our great bosses as always decided everything for us," she said in an Instagram story video that is no longer available. In a later Instagram post she added that she would not have "reacted so harshly if I had been told in advance, explained the whole situation and asked if I was able to run 400 metres". "But they decided to do everything behind my back," she added. And in a video the athlete appealed to the IOC to intervene in her case, warning: "I am under pressure and they are trying to take me out of the country without my consent." Belarusian state television meanwhile has criticised Timanovskaya, with the channel's presenter saying she "turned her time in Tokyo into a grandiose scandal." Adams said the IOC had demanded a full written account of the incident from Belarus's Olympic committee, adding that the IOC has taken a series of actions against the committee in recent months. Belarusian President Lukashenko's disputed re-election to a sixth term last August led to the most serious political crisis in the country's modern history, with protesters taking to the streets and authorities cracking down on the opposition. In December, the IOC banned Lukashenko and his eldest son Viktor from Olympic events over the Belarus Olympic committee's targeting of athletes for their political views. Then in March, the IOC refused to recognise Viktor Lukashenko's leadership of the Belarus NOC when he took over from his father, who had held the role since 1967. Viktor Lukashenko was banned from attending the Olympics, along with a member of the country's Olympic Committee executive board and several government officials. A number of Belarusian athletes have supported Lukashenko's critics and demanded an end to the crackdown. The turmoil has also led to Belarus being stripped of the hosting rights for this year's ice hockey world championship. In response to a number of questions by journalists about what the IOC would do to ensure other athletes in the village were protected, the IOC spokesperson said they were still collecting details about what exactly occurred.