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Saturday, Sept. 2, 2006
VOWS CONSTITUTION, EDUCATION CHANGES
Abe declares bid for LDP helm
HIROSHIMA -- Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe officially declared his candidacy Friday for the Sept. 20 Liberal Democratic Party's presidential election, a race he is widely expected to handily win.
Abe, 51, in tossing his hat into the ring, said his campaign will focus on revising the pacifist Constitution and carrying out educational reforms to foster a sense of caring about the country's tradition and culture.
"I want to create a beautiful Japan so children can be proud of being born in this country," Abe told a news conference, adding he wants to make the country more open.
"I want to create beautiful and generous Japan so that many people in other countries want to come to Japan and want their children educated here," he said.
"What forms a country and demonstrates its ideals is the Constitution," Abe told a convention of the LDP's western Chugoku chapter in Hiroshima, before he faced reporters to announce his candidacy.
The LDP's Diet majority effectively means its president will become prime minister.
"As the next president of the LDP, I have to take the initiative to place creation of a new Constitution on the political road map," Abe said.
Asked why he is adamant about amending the Constitution, Abe told reporters: "I do not mean to deny the country's 61 postwar years. But the Constitution was written when Japan was occupied. So I meant the Japanese people to join hands to set our future course."
Deemed a hardliner on diplomatic issues, Abe took a step toward mending Japan's soured ties with China and South Korea, calling for "reinforcing Japan's relations" with those and other neighbor countries. He also stressed the importance of Japan's alliance with the United States.
Abe said he aims to resolve issues with North Korea, including the abductions of Japanese citizens and Pyongyang's nuclear threat.
In an apparent attempt to respin his hawkish image, Abe visited a peace memorial in Hiroshima ahead of the news conference, site of the world's first nuclear attack, on Aug. 6, 1945.
Announcing his policy platform, however, Abe avoided prominent contentious issues, including a possible consumption tax hike and visits to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine.
These issues have been addressed in recent weeks by the other two contenders -- Foreign Minister Taro Aso, who declared his candidacy Aug. 21 and had recommended that the Tokyo shrine be stripped of its religious status, and Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, who on July 27 announced his intention to run and said he would not visit the shrine and would push for a sales tax hike.
"Let's not carry over the financial burden of the country to our children and grandchildren," Tanigaki told the LDP convention, referring to the country's deficit that ballooned during the economic slump that began in the early 1990s.
Tanigaki criticized Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for not being able to get summits with China and South Korea due mainly to his contentious annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine.
At the start of the convention, Abe drew applause from the local crowd with: "I am Shinzo Abe of Yamaguchi Prefecture, from this Chugoku district."
Abe is well-known as an advocate of constitutional revisions or creation of a new one. In a recently published book, he argued that the preamble to the Constitution, drafted by the Allies soon after World War II, is "like a deed of apology by the defeated nation to the Allied Powers."
As for education reforms, Abe said it is important to reinforce the public education system so everyone has a chance to have sufficient education.
Private schools are highly popular, although costly, and some experts argue that their existence means there is a disparity in opportunities for high-quality education.
He vowed to promote global ties among universities and to prompt prospective students to engage in volunteer work.