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Japan prime minister apologizes to hepatitis patients

Japan prime minister apologizes to hepatitis patients

Japan's prime minister met and apologized yesterday to hepatitis patients at the center of a high-profile scandal over tainted blood products as he tried to quell a row that risks further eroding his support ratings.
The meeting came after Yasuo Fukuda's surprise announcement on Sunday that his ruling coalition would draft legislation to compensate all patients who contracted hepatitis C from tainted products, with payments under equal conditions.
"I believe you have all suffered, mind and soul, for many years and have had feelings that can't be expressed into words," Fukuda told the group of patients.
"I take this opportunity to apologize from my heart," he said, bowing.
Fukuda, who already faces voter anger over mishandled pension records and a bribery case involving a former top defense official, was dealt a blow last week when patients who had sued the government and drug makers rejected a government proposal for compensation.
The patients turned down the plan that would have given aid to 1,000 patients, saying it aimed to pay sufferers according to when they had been administered tainted blood products.
At least 10,000 people are estimated to have contracted hepatitis C from tainted products.
Michiko Yamaguchi, one of four patients who met Fukuda, said she felt the prime minister's apology was sincere but that the patients wanted the government to clarify its responsibility in the scandal.
"We said that unless the legislation states who is responsible for causing and spreading these drug-induced damages, this country can not prevent such incidents from occurring again," Yamaguchi told reporters.
Fukuda's meeting with the patients came a week after public opinion polls found support ratings for his cabinet had plunged to just over 30 percent.