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Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2006

Abe deflects DPJ, still coy on shrine, tax

Opposition can't nail down clarification

Staff writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the Lower House plenary session Monday he has no intention of clarifying whether he will visit Yasukuni Shrine, triggering criticism from the opposition for his "vagueness" on key political issues.

Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama charged head-on at Abe, the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, demanding he clarify his position on Yasukuni.

Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, made annual visits to the shrine, provoking outcries with China and South Korea. Abe supported Koizumi's visits and has also made several trips, the last time in April when he was chief Cabinet secretary. But that trip was only revealed by the media months later, and he has remained mum on whether he will go as prime minister.

"I would like to continue putting my hands together in prayer and expressing respect for those who fought for the nation and sacrificed their precious lives," Abe said, calling this a personal issue and not one requiring clarification. Hatoyama, grilling Abe in place of DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa, who has been hospitalized, further slammed him for not only waffling on the shrine issue but also dragging his feet on hiking the consumption tax, saying he is being vague so the LDP can fare well in next summer's Upper House election, after which it is believed the levy will be hiked.

"That is nothing other than spur-of-the-moment opportunism -- politics without principles, fundamental rules or public pledges," Hatoyama said.

DPJ Policy Research Chief Takeaki Matsumoto also pressed for more details on how Abe would ensure a strong economy.

"Continued stable economic growth is indispensable for our country to prosper as a beautiful nation," Abe responded.

He added that his government is aiming for real annual economic growth of more than 2.2 percent over the next 10 years.

But Abe has continued to avoid clarifying his consumption tax stance, saying he will first cut spending and advance administrative reforms.

"After these various reforms take effect . . . I will promote drastic and unified tax reforms and secure a stable source of revenue," he said. "Regarding the consumption tax, I think it is necessary to hold discussions while (promoting) drastic and unified tax reforms."

Abe said discussions on the tax hike will take place sometime after next fall, after the fiscal 2007 budget's expenditure cuts and fiscal 2006 account settlements have become clear.

On bringing back into the LDP the "postal reform rebels" who were kicked out after opposing Koizumi's bill to privatize the postal services, Abe gave his standard refrain: "I will consider each individual case" in a positive way.

After the plenary session, Hatoyama expressed disbelief at Abe's vagueness.

"(Abe) did not answer anything and just read aloud a composition written by bureaucrats," he told reporters.

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The Japan Times

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