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Sunday, Aug. 3, 2008

Fukuda vows action on oil, terror

Anticlimactic Cabinet reshuffle casts doubt on prime minister's ability to tackle tough issues

Staff writer

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda vowed to tackle pressing issues like surging oil prices and participation in the "war on terrorism" as his new Cabinet was officially launched at an attestation ceremony at the Imperial Palace on Saturday.

News photo
New crew: Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and his new Cabinet head for a photo session after holding their first Cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Official Residence on Saturday. SATOKO KAWSAKI PHOTO

"I will give everything I've got in building a government that puts itself in the people's shoes, a foundation in which people can live without worry, and an economic society in which the people can feel affluence," Fukuda said in a statement. "And at the same time I will do my best to contribute to the peace and stability of the world and resolve the global environmental issues."

On diplomacy, Fukuda stressed the importance of a strong Japanese-U.S. alliance but also vowed to create an open relationship to work "together" with Asia-Pacific countries.

"As a nation that actively cooperates to realize peace, I will cooperate with the international society in the 'war on terrorism,' " Fukuda's statement said, adding that he will also devote himself to resolving the North Korea's nuclear, missile and abduction issues.

The key issue for the upcoming extraordinary Diet session is whether Fukuda and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party will forcefully extend the Maritime Self Defense Force's activities in the Indian Ocean to refuel multinational naval ships engaged in counterterrorism operations.

The special antiterrorism law that enables the MSDF activities will expire in January.

The LDP's coalition partner, New Komeito, is backed by Japan's largest lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai. As an advocate of peace, it has been expressing increasing reluctance to help the LDP force the extension through the Diet.

"As a 'peace-cooperating nation,' I will promote international cooperation like peacekeeping operations, antiterrorism measures and rehabilitation aid," Fukuda told a news conference Friday evening after the reshuffle. The comments were interpreted as an intention to extend the refueling activities.

On domestic issues, Fukuda especially expressed concern over the recent surge in prices and the aging society due to a low birth rate.

"To solve the two issues, we need to continue economic growth for more employment and an increase in income," Fukuda said.

On Friday evening, Fukuda reshuffled his Cabinet for the first time since he was appointed prime minister in a bid to boost the stagnant support rate of his Cabinet. Most of his previous Cabinet ministers were selected by Fukuda's nationalistic predecessor Shinzo Abe, who quit abruptly last September.

Despite calls from within the LDP to have Fukuda choose his own ministers, Fukuda continued on for 10 months mostly with Abe's handpicked ministers.

But critics say that despite strong expectations, Fukuda's picks were not that exciting and that is doubtful the new Cabinet lineup will give Fukuda the public support he needs to proceed.

Four ministers were retained, including Machimura and Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura. Three of the previous LDP executive members including former Secretary General Bunmei Ibuki were given ministerial posts.

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The Japan Times

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