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Saturday, Nov. 29, 2008

Ozawa showdown low-key as gaffe-prone Aso keeps comments to himself


By MASAMI ITO and KAZUAKI NAGATA
Staff writers

Outspoken Prime Minister Taro Aso may have finally learned his lesson Friday about holding his tongue.

For weeks, Aso has made repeated gaffes and then had to retract them and apologize. It reached a point where even lawmakers from his own Liberal Democratic Party began to criticize his careless slips of the tongue.

But Friday, during his first much-awaited one-on-one open session with archrival Ichiro Ozawa, president of the Democratic Party of Japan, Aso chose his words carefully and spoke with sincerity.

During the session, Ozawa offered Aso the following advice: "There is an old saying — a king's words, like perspiration, cannot be retracted."

Instead of arguing back, and without a word of protest, Aso simply said, "Thank you for your advice."

Later the same day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said some people might have found the debate boring, but praised Aso for "playing it safe."

"It may not have been entirely satisfactory for some as it lacked Aso's usual straightforward comments — but he can perform well if he tries," Kawamura said.

"I hope he will continue to play it safe. . . . I think this debate was the start of him facing the public directly and straightforwardly," he added.

Until Friday, Aso and Ozawa had traded harsh words — Aso claimed Ozawa cannot be trusted, while Ozawa shot back by saying Aso's words were the false accusations of a "punk."

But face to face, each was respectful.

During the session, Ozawa urged the prime minister to dissolve the Lower House and call a snap election if he cannot keep his promise to energize the economy by submitting a second extra budget during this Diet session. But Aso said he would submit the budget at the beginning of the next Diet session in January and added he is not planning to call an election.



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