Homeless protest against Koizumi’s ‘beggar’ remark

TOKYO, Reuters

A group of Japanese homeless gathered in front of the prime minister’s office in the heart of Tokyo on Friday, demanding Junichiro Koizumi apologize for referring to them as beggars, domestic media said.

The protest came as the hugely popular prime minister was on the campaign trail, drumming up support for an Upper House election on Sunday that could determine whether he wins a mandate for his ambitious program to reform the struggling economy.

About 40 homeless people and their supporters gathered in front of the prime minister’s office to protest against Koizumi’s comments in a campaign speech, the Mainichi Shimbun said in its online edition. “Even beggars can read. They read newspapers. Even the homeless,” the Mainichi quoted Koizumi as saying on Thursday in a speech in Oita city on southern Kyushu island.

The angry, shouting group read aloud a letter of complaint calling for an apology from the prime minister. “Koizumi should show more understanding toward the feelings of people who are in such straits because of restructuring,” Mainichi quoted one member of the group as saying.

The hugely popular Koizumi was propelled to power in April by ruling party members keen to replace his predecessor, Yoshiro Mori, whose penchant for verbal gaffes helped slice his popularity to single-digit levels.