Minister apologizes to Minamata disease sufferers after their speeches cut off

Japan's environment minister has apologized to the representative of a group of people suffering from Minamata disease and others for how their meeting with him last week was handled. During the event, the representative and another participant were cut off while speaking.

Eight groups met Environment Minister Ito Shintaro in the southwestern city of Minamata on May 1. Minamata disease is caused by mercury poisoning due to wastewater and said to have devastated the lives of tens of thousands of people in Japan.

At the meeting, each representative was given three minutes to convey their requests and other messages to the minister. A ministry official cut off representatives from two groups after their allotted time was up. Their microphones were then switched off.

On Wednesday, Ito visited Minamata and met the representative of one of the two groups and others. The representative had his microphone turned off after exceeding the allotted time.

The minister bowed deeply to each of the participants and told them he wanted to apologize from the bottom of his heart.

The representative said he hopes another occasion will be arranged for people suffering from Minamata disease to express their views and handed a letter of request to the minister.

Members of other groups criticized the ministry, saying people with the disease and their groups were trifled with and the way the meeting was managed was extremely rude.

Ito said he deeply regrets the matter and holds the entire ministry and himself responsible. He added that the allocated time of three minutes is not enough and he thinks occasions should be set up where sufferers of the disease can speak longer.

Ito later apologized in person to another individual whose microphone was switched off.