Fri, Sep 08, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Abe set to be LDP leader

SENSITIVE PAST With the leadership vote looming, Abe makes no secret of his views on Japan's past and Tokyo's controversial Yasukuni shrine for war dead

AP AND AFP , TOKYO

Japan's ruling party and opposition leaders agreed yesterday to elect a new prime minister on Sept. 26 after Junichiro Koizumi steps down from the post, officials said.

Leaders of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the largest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), yesterday agreed to convene parliament on Sept. 26 for a vote to elect a new leader, opposition party spokesman Toshiaki Oikawa said.

Koizumi has said he would step down following the end of his current term as head of his party.

Lawmaker Shinzo Abe, currently Chief Cabinet Spokesman in the Koizumi Cabinet, is considered the front-runner in the LDP's Sept. 20 leadership election. Whoever wins that race is expected to succeed Koizumi, whose party holds the majority of seats in parliament's powerful lower house.

Newspaper surveys show that a majority of LDP lawmakers plan to support Abe in the Sept. 20 party vote.

Fellow conservative Foreign Minister Taro Aso and Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, who has cast himself as a moderate, also plan to run, but they both trail far behind Abe.

The DPJ, meanwhile, is expected to nominate its leader Ichiro Ozawa for the prime minister's post at a party meeting on Sept. 25, Oikawa said.

Abe has said that if elected prime minister, he would strive for a more assertive foreign policy and take steps to amend Japan's pacifist Constitution, which bars the use of force in settling international conflicts.

The popular Abe has also been a staunch supporter of Koizumi's repeated visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni war shrine honoring Japan's 2.5 million war dead -- including 14 top war criminals -- which have strained Japan's relations with China and South Korea.

In 1995, Japan issued a landmark apology on the 50th anniversary of its surrender in World War II in the form of a statement by then prime minister Tomiichi Murayama.

The apology said that Japan had followed a "mistaken national policy" and said its "aggression caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations," statements that Koizumi has repeated almost word for word over his tenure.

Departing from this tradition, Abe said yesterday that there is no need to make a freshly worded apology over Japan's war atrocities.

"I don't think it is necessary to make a statement every time the administration changes," said Abe during a news conference.

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