TOKYO, July 13 -- Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto has (Monday) resigned his premiership and his post as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Hashimoto says he takes responsibility for the drubbing his party faced in Sunday's elections for half of the seats in the upper house of the Diet, Japan's parliament. Speaking at a press conference, Hashimoto, who came to power in January 1996, said, referring to the defeat, 'It's all my fault.' The LDP not only failed to gain its hoped-for majority in the election for seats in the House of Councillors, but it lost several seats, going against its own and pre-election polls. Hashimoto has been steering the nation through an economic recession, and the election was seen as a referendum on his leadership. Using terminology that became popular during soccer's World Cup, LDP opponents said the government had been handed a 'yellow card' from voters, indicating the next one will be a 'red card' or its ouster. Despite rapid drops on the Tokyo stock market and in the value of the yen following the election, markets reacted indifferently to the announcement of Hashimoto's resignation. Just after the announcement the yen was holding steady at about 142 to the dollar, and the key Nikkei index was up slightly on hopes that a new prime minister will hasten the reform process. The LDP, which still has a majority of seats in the more powerful lower house of the Diet, now sets about the process of choosing a new prime minister.
The Japanese media has been speculating on the person who would step into Hashimoto's shoes when the successor is chosen on July 27. Of the 176 seats contested over the weekend the LDP saw its number of seats whittled to 44 from 61. It needed to win 68 seats to gain control of the upper house. ---
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