Japanese prime minister announces travel ban after catastrophic launch

TOKYO — The Japanese prime minister on Sunday announced that the country’s borders are being closed to foreign tourists as the government attempted to gain clarity over a disastrous rocket launch of one of its space ships last week that exposed fundamental security shortcomings.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a statement that the exclusionary measures will be implemented “until there is clearer information.”

“We must maintain a watchful eye on commercial and private flights, so that those who do not need to enter Japan cannot get access here,” he said in the statement.

According to Japanese media reports, the ban could last for three months as the government tries to find out the precise cause of the problem.

The rocket, called H-IIA, was launched from the northern island of Honshu on Wednesday carrying what was thought to be a European weather satellite. But as the spacecraft climbed through space, it malfunctioned and the engine gave out, destroying the satellite. The crash left Japan with no weather satellite.

The government has hired an international agency to study what happened, but until then it will remain shut off from foreign tourists.

“Japanese and foreign tourists who visit Japan are getting uneasy due to political and security issues,” deputy chief cabinet secretary Hidetoshi Nishimura said. “The administration wants to do its utmost for tourism to be continued.”

Japan has about 63 million tourists a year. But President Donald Trump has expressed concern about their numbers, telling Abe in April that he would like to see the number of visitors “dramatically” increased.

Tokyo currently receives around 25 million visitors per year. China and South Korea, where the country has stronger political ties, receive around 60 million each.

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