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Saturday, Sept. 29, 2007

Yasukuni issue kept me out of '06 presidential race: Fukuda


By By HIROKO NAKATA
Staff writer

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said Friday that he decided not to run for president of the Liberal Democratic Party last September because he didn't want to make Yasukuni Shrine the focus of the race.

Visits by outgoing Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to the Shinto shrine, which honors Japan's war dead as well as Class-A war criminals, had strained relations with China and South Korea, raising the question of whether the next party chief and prime minister would continue to do the same.

In a speech at Kyodo News headquarters, Fukuda also divulged that he did not want to run against Shinzo Abe because their families have been on good terms for many years.

It was the first time Fukuda, who took over for Abe on Tuesday, publicly disclosed his reasons for not running in the LDP race last year.

At one point before the race, Fukuda had emerged as Abe's main potential rival for succeeding Koizumi as prime minister. But he mysteriously opted out two months before the election.

At the time, Fukuda said he was too old to run, but speculation about the decision never stopped swirling.

"It is fine to have discussions (about Yasukuni), but it shouldn't have been brought up in the LDP presidential race," Fukuda said Friday. "If I had joined the race, (Yasukuni) would have been a focus of the election,"

In contrast to hawkish Abe, Fukuda is an advocate of more conciliatory policies toward Japan's Asian neighbors, especially China.

Fukuda also said he didn't want to fight Abe "because our families had known each other for two or three generations."

Fukuda is a son of late Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda; Abe is a son of former Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe and a grandson of the late Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi.

Shintaro Abe, who died in 1991, took over an LDP faction headed by Takeo Fukuda in 1986. The faction is currently headed by Nobutaka Machimura, who was named chief Cabinet secretary in Yasuo Fukuda's Cabinet.

"I told (Abe before the 2006 LDP race), 'I won't stand in your way if a young person like you wants to run in the race,' " Fukuda said.

Fukuda also said he did not have the slightest intention of becoming prime minister, in part because he had watched his own father struggle in the job. He served as secretary to his father while he was prime minister from 1976 and 1978.



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