A powerful politician and dozens of his followers have quit Japan's ruling party and are likely to form their own rival bloc, dealing a blow to the Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda.
Ichiro Ozawa and 49 other MPs submitted their resignations to the Democratic Party of Japan yesterday, possibly with more to follow. Thirty-eight of them are members of the lower house of parliament, where a loss of 11 more seats would end Mr Noda's majority and possibly force new elections.
Mr Ozawa, 70, played a key role in the party's rise to power in 2009 and has been a vocal critic of Mr Noda's plan to double Japan's sales tax to 10 per cent by 2015. He said the ruling party had "betrayed" the public by teaming up with the opposition to ram through the tax increase.
Mr Noda, who has been in office since September, made the tax rise the centrepiece of his efforts to fund government programmes as Japan's population rapidly ages. Opponents say it will hurt the economy.