Tokyo, April 19 (IANS) A top bureaucrat in Japan's Finance Ministry has resigned following allegations that he sexually harassed female journalists.

Junichi Fukuda has denied the accusations reported in a magazine which said it had evidence against him, the BBC reported on Thursday. Fukuda said he was resigning only because he did not want to disrupt work at the ministry which already "faces a severe situation".

The allegations that Fukuda had made sexually suggestive comments to female journalists were first reported by the magazine Shukan Shincho.

The publication also released an audio clip earlier this week which it said was the voice of the bureaucrat saying "Can I give you a hug?" and "Can I touch your breasts?", the BBC reported.

Prior to Fukuda's resignation, Japan's newspaper employees union had issued a statement calling for better protection of women in the workplace.

Japan's Finance Ministry is under fire for allegedly having altered documents to shield Prime Minister Shinzo Abe from accusations of cronyism. The ministry said it plans to appoint a law firm to investigate the accusations.

In another case, Niigata Prefecture Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama stepped down over accusations that he paid women for relationships.

Yoneyama explained his resignation saying those relations might "look to some like prostitution". Prostitution is illegal in Japan but prosecution is rare. Yoneyama, who is unmarried, said he was stepping down to avoid further political "turmoil".

"It was hard to find someone to date... I did give gifts and money to get attention," he said at a news conference.

#MeToo movement, sparked by the Harvey Weinstein scandal in Hollywood, started a broad pushback against sexual harassment in many countries around the world. But Japan's socially conservative society has so far been slow to join the drive.