Japan's Opposition Demands Premier Quit

The Associated Press
Monday, July 30, 2007; 12:17 PM

TOKYO -- Fresh off a spectacular election win, Japan's opposition on Monday demanded that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resign, opposed his support of U.S. foreign policy and promised to gain leadership of the world's second-largest economy.

A defiant Abe clung to his job despite Sunday's humiliating loss in parliamentary elections, warning of a political vacuum if he were to quit and instead announcing he would make changes soon in his scandal-riddled Cabinet.

"I cannot run away now," Abe told reporters as he dismissed mounting public pressure to step down for losing the majority in parliament's upper house. "We cannot afford a political vacuum."

"Japan is in the midst of reforms that must be carried forward," he said.

However, the ruling party's No. 2 man, Secretary-General Hidenao Nakagawa, did announce that he would resign.

On Sunday, voters stripped the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner of their majority in parliament's 242-seat body upper chamber. The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan became the No. 1 party in the upper house _ heralding an era of political deadlock with the Liberal Democratic Party, which remains in control of the lower house.

The Democratic Party of Japan was quick to assert its newfound clout, ridiculing Abe's decision to stay on as prime minister and questioning some of his most basic policies.

"It's clear that the nation has given Mr. Abe a clear 'no.' How he can ignore that is absolutely baffling," acting party chief Naoto Kan said in a televised debate. He spoke on behalf of party leader Ichiro Ozawa, who was recovering from a cold.

"The public has given us a mandate," Kan said. "We will see in lower house elections which party they want in power."

Another opposition party leader, Yukio Hatoyama, said the Democratic Party of Japan would oppose extending Japan's naval mission to support U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan. The Japanese navy has provided fuel for coalition warships in the Indian Ocean since 2001; the current mission expires in November.

"We have always been fundamentally opposed to extending," Hatoyama said. "The upper house elections have shown the country agrees, and so we will be expected to keep that line."

The Indian Ocean mission has been part of Tokyo's recent attempts to raise its international profile. Japan also sent non-combat troops to help rebuild southern Iraq.

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