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Japan prime minister will resign

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced Friday he would resign after almost 15 months in office amid plunging approval ratings over his government's handling of the tsunami disaster and nuclear crisis.

In a nationally televised speech, Kan said he was stepping down as chief of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and would officially quit as prime minister after the ruling party votes Monday to pick a new leader -- the country's sixth prime minister in five years.

Former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, a 49-year-old expert in defense and a China hawk, is viewed as the front-runner to replace Kan. Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Trade Minister Banri Kaieda are also viewed as contenders.

The resignation was widely expected because in June, Kan had promised to quit once lawmakers passed three key pieces of legislation. The final two bills cleared parliament earlier Friday.

Looking back on his year and three months in office, Kan said he did all he could given difficulties he faced, including the disasters and a major election defeat in upper house elections last summer that left the parliament in gridlock.

Kan, 64, has seen his approval ratings tumble below 20 percent amid a perceived lack of leadership after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which led to meltdowns at three reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

Survivors have complained about slow recovery efforts, and radiation has spread into the air, water and some foods. Radiation leaking from the plant has declined dramatically as workers try to bring the plant to a cold shutdown by January.

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