In a move that could spell more trouble for beleaguered Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, the top lieutenant in his ruling party resigned today.
Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Hiromu Nonaka, the eminence grise of the long-dominant party, told reporters that he had met with Mori and tendered his resignation, which Mori had accepted.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told reporters, "They tried very hard to dissuade him from quitting, but in the end it didn't work," Kyodo news agency said.
The 75-year-old Nonaka said he had asked Mori to "allow me this selfishness" and had told him he was "tired, both mentally and physically," and wanted "to rest for a while." The announcement triggered immediate speculation that Nonaka might be planning to oust the unpopular Mori--a move he could not honorably make as party secretary-general.
Nonaka played a key role in defeating a no-confidence motion against Mori last week in parliament, quashing a rebellion by an LDP reformist rival.
Takenori Kanzaki, head of one of Mori's coalition partners, said Nonaka's resignation would not affect the coalition.
Mori had been expected to ask Nonaka to keep his post in a party leadership reshuffle planned ahead of a new Cabinet lineup next week.