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Aso appoints new ministers in reshuffle

JAPAN'S prime minister appointed two ruling party legislators to Cabinet posts yesterday in a largely cosmetic measure to relieve the burden on over-worked ministers and boost his ratings among voters.

Yoshimasa Hayashi, 48, a Harvard-educated former defense minister, was appointed minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy. Motoo Hayashi, 62, who is not related to the other new minister, became minister in charge of national public safety - a post that he has held before.

The Cabinet positions were previously held by ministers who each handled more than one portfolio. Prime Minister Taro Aso said the appointments were intended to relieve their workload. "We feel that these changes were needed to make for a proper Cabinet," Aso told reporters.

Aso has been fighting to cling to his job amid public disenchantment over the economic downturn and political scandals. Support ratings for Aso's Cabinet fell to the single digits in February before recovering to around 20 percent in response to scandals involving opposition leaders.

Asked by a reporter if the reshuffle could improve his popularity, Aso said that was not for him to decide.

Mizuho Fukushima, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party, said the reshuffle was mere posturing and practically meaningless, coming just weeks before elections due by September. "The Aso government is already at the terminal stage and is falling apart. What is the reshuffle for at the last minute?" she said.

Japanese media have speculated that Aso might change the leadership in his ruling Liberal Democratic Party, roles that are separate from but more powerful than ministers.

The Kyodo News agency said Aso had to scrap plans to change the top party posts after opposition from party heavyweights, underscoring discordance in the party and his waning influence.

The main opposition Democratic Party, fighting scandals of its own, has not been able to loosen the grip on power of the LDP, which has ruled Japan almost continuously for more than half a century.


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