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Friday, Oct. 24, 2008
Aso simmers down, defends glitzy nightlife
By MASAMI ITO
Prime Minister Taro Aso countered growing criticism Thursday about his wining and dining at high-end hotels and restaurants by saying his haunts are public places open to anyone.
However, contrary to Wednesday's heated moment with reporters, Aso kept his head and laid out his case plain and simple.
Both the opposition parties and the ruling bloc have called his outings inappropriate, particularly with a possible Lower House election looming and amid an economic meltdown. Aso wasn't fazed. "Hotel bars are normally used by anyone," he said. "I believe the image that the bars are expensive is a bit (misplaced)."
The grandson of Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida has often been criticized for being out of touch with the public.
Aso, 68, became prime minister a month ago, but that has not crimped his nightlife. According to the Asahi Shimbun, Aso has been to 32 restaurants and bars in the past month. His elder predecessor, Yasuo Fukuda, had only seven such outings in his first month in office.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Jun Matsumoto said Thursday that Aso is carefully selecting his venues to accommodate both bodyguards and reporters. Matsumoto is personally close to the prime minister and has joined him on many of the occasions.
Aso's wining and dining "is his lifestyle and philosophy, and I am not in a position to express my opinion," Matsumoto told reporters.