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Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2006
Aso declares candidacy for LDP race
By MASAMI ITO
Foreign Minister Taro Aso officially declared his candidacy Monday for the Liberal Democratic Party's presidential election, throwing his hat into a ring where Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe is already expected to win by a landslide.
At a news conference to announce his candidacy for the Sept. 20 poll, Aso stressed that his campaign would focus on mending the disparities between cities and rural areas.
Aso said that 81 percent of the population lives in Tokyo or other large cities while just 19 percent reside in rural areas.
"But does that mean we can abandon these townspeople and villagers? Of course not," Aso said.
"There is no doubt that we are eating the rice cultivated by these people in their fields. I believe that we have forgotten to be thankful to (these townspeople and villagers), who have made (Japan) rich in nature through forestation of the mountains and flood control."
In his pledge for the election, the winner of which will become the next prime minister, Aso said the task of Japan's next leader should be to shift "from destruction to creation."
The phrase is a reference to how old-guard conservatives in the LDP have described Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's efforts to reform the party while in office.
Aso accused Koizumi of destroying both the LDP and the government's protection of vested interests -- without rebuilding what he "destroyed."
On foreign policy, he said Japan should continue to weigh the benefits of its alliance with the United States while seeking stability in Asia, especially in relations with China.
On Yasukuni Shrine, however, a divisive point in Japan's relations with China and South Korea, Aso emphasized that "it is absurd that Yasukuni Shrine has been brought up as an issue for political struggle."
"I believe that people should be able to visit Yasukuni Shrine quietly," he said, without bringing up the significance of visits by the prime minister and other state officials. "I feel (Yasukuni Shrine) should be placed farthest away from politics and leave both the spirits of the war dead and their relatives alone. It is a place for religious faith."
Earlier this month, Aso proposed that the Shinto shrine be stripped of its religious status and turned into a state-run war memorial, but he made no mention about whether the Class-A war criminals should be removed from the shrine.
Aso will face off against Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki and Abe, the front-runner, who has yet to declare his candidacy.
To differentiate himself from Abe, Tanigaki has proposed raising the consumption tax to 10 percent and promised not to visit Yasukuni Shrine if selected to be prime minister.
Aso, on the other hand, tried to liken himself to Abe, saying his foreign policy is similar to Abe's.
"This is the first time that I know of that the three candidates (for the presidential election) are from the same Cabinet," Aso said. "Therefore, it would be strange if the three of us had completely different (campaign pledges)."
This is the second time Aso has run for LDP president.