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Friday, Oct. 3, 2008

Aso sorry for past gaffes, pushes budget passage


Staff writer

Outspoken new Prime Minister Taro Aso, known for his slips of the tongue, faced Upper House lawmakers Thursday and apologized for his past verbal gaffes.

News photo
Mea culpa: Prime Minister Taro Aso addresses the House of Councilors plenary session Thursday. KYODO PHOTO

During the upper chamber's plenary session, Aso repeated that his priority will be to pass the fiscal 2008 supplementary budget rather than quickly dissolving the Lower House for a snap election, given the worsening global financial crisis.

"I would like to apologize for my past careless remarks and for causing displeasure to related people," Aso said during the plenary session. "From now on, I will make statements while bearing in mind the gravity of the words of a prime minister."

The outspoken prime minister, who also heads the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, has triggered anger on various occasions with badly judged statements.

In 2007, he said that "even people with Alzheimer's can tell" that Japanese rice is more expensive in China than in Japan, and just last month he compared the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force, to the Nazis.

Aso also apologized over the series of verbal blunders made by former transport minister Nariaki Nakayama, who was forced to resign just four days after taking the job.

"Nakayama's series of remarks were extremely inappropriate for a state minister," Aso said. "I am responsible for appointing him, and I would like to fulfill my duties to the public by producing results through my job."

Azuma Koshiishi, chairman of the DPJ Upper House caucus, slammed Aso for his gaffes.

"Your statements are all just a performance for (the upcoming) election," Koshiishi told Aso. "The LDP-led government has continued to destroy the people's lives and your statements are beyond public understanding."

Originally, political insiders had been expecting Aso to dissolve the Lower House as early as Friday and to call for an election to be held at the beginning of November. But now, the dissolution of the house may be pushed back to next week or even further.

The LDP-New Komeito ruling coalition had been aiming to hold an election while the Cabinet was still new and fresh for the electorate — to clear away the negativity remaining from the tenures of Aso's predecessors, Shinzo Abe and Yasuo Fukuda, who both quit out of the blue amid plunging approval ratings.

But amid the deepening global financial crisis, the ruling bloc has decided to prioritize the passage of the fiscal 2008 supplementary budget in the extraordinary Diet session.

"I think that rather than playing politics and dissolving the Lower House, I would like to prioritize carrying out policies like economic measures," Aso said Thursday, adding that there are lots of issues that also need to be taken care of. These include the establishment of a consumer affairs agency and the extension of the antiterrorism bill to enable the Maritime Self-Defense Force to continue refueling multinational warships in the Indian Ocean.



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