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Thursday, Nov. 8, 2007

Ozawa eats humble pie, puts blame on fatigue


By SETSUKO KAMIYA and MASAMI ITO
Staff writers

Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa's tough image as a stubborn opposition leader was diluted Wednesday by his apology and formal reversal of his decision to step down, and by his admission of weakness.

Appearing before the public for the first time since his resignation offer Sunday, a humble Ozawa apologized for causing an uproar on Nov. 2 after his closed-door talks with Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, when a possible grand alliance with Fukuda's Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc was floated and Ozawa discussed it with the DPJ's top executives.

"I would like to express my sincere apology to the public, to DPJ supporters, DPJ members and to my fellow DPJ Diet lawmakers for causing grave trouble regarding the two party leader talks," Ozawa told a news conference at DPJ headquarters in Tokyo.

In contrast with his tough image, Ozawa remained modest and said he regretted that his being "a man of few words" had created misunderstandings over the past few days.

He also confessed to a moment of weakness that he blamed on fatigue.

"Since I became (DPJ) president, I had been working to my limits both physically and mentally until the July Upper House election," he said. "But I think I was very tired, which made me lose vigor for a moment when I invited the confusion (over the proposed grand coalition)."

Ozawa has had a history of heart problems.

His decision to stay at the helm is expected to quell the DPJ's internal strife for now, but the bizarre event has had a negative impact on the party at a time when the opposition is preparing to capitalize on a rare but realistic chance of edging the LDP-led ruling bloc should a general election be called.

Ozawa said that despite the opposition's decisive victory in the Upper House election in July, in which the ruling bloc lost its control of the chamber, a Lower House election would be much more challenging.

He also said he wants to avoid a situation in which the DPJ is unable to make progress on its most popular policies in the Diet, where the LDP-New Komeito bloc controls the Lower House.

The divided Diet has not passed a single bill this session.

Although the DPJ has ruled out a grand coalition with the LDP-New Komeito bloc, some DPJ executives said they are willing to discuss policy in some areas, such as support for victims of natural disasters.

But Ozawa confirmed that his party will continue to oppose the special antiterrorism bill authorizing Japan to resume the Maritime Self-Defense Force's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean that is being deliberated in the Lower House.

Upon hearing the news of Ozawa's decision to stay with the DPJ, Prime Minister Fukuda told reporters he was relieved the whole fiasco is calming down. Fukuda added that he would continue negotiating with Ozawa and the DPJ over various policies, including the MSDF bill.



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