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Minister quits over nuclear remark

Japan's trade minister has resigned after just eight days in office and apologised repeatedly for calling the evacuated area around a stricken nuclear power plant "a town of death".

Yoshio Hachiro announced his departure at a news conference and apologised multiple times. People affected by the March 11 disasters, political opponents and even members of the ruling Democrats had strongly criticised his remark.

He told reporters he was just trying to convey the seriousness of the situation when he made the remark on Thursday on a visit with other government ministers to the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.

His departure is a major embarrassment for Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who took office and installed a new Cabinet on September 2 amid hopes a new government could better tackle recovery efforts from the disasters.

After the tsunami struck the nuclear plant, three of its six reactors melted down, releasing massive amounts of radiation that have tainted the surrounding environment. About 80,000 people were forced to evacuate and may not be able to return for years because of radiation dangers.

While the earthquake and tsunami left about 21,000 people dead and missing along Japan's northeast coast, no deaths have been blamed on radiation.

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