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Embattled Japanese PM mulls reshuffle

JAPANESE Prime Minister Taro Aso said yesterday that he might add fresh faces to his Cabinet and revamp his party's leadership as moves grew to oust him ahead of an election the ruling bloc looks set to lose.

The main opposition Democratic Party, though, confronted problems of its own after party leader Yukio Hatoyama admitted that some people listed as donors in funding reports were dead.

Hatoyama, who took the post in May after his predecessor quit over a funding scandal that ensnared a close aide, apologized but told a news conference that he did not plan to resign.

Polls have shown the Democrats leading Aso's Liberal Democratic Party in the run-up to a parliamentary election that must be held by October, boosting the chances of an end to more than five decades of almost unbroken rule by the business-friendly ruling party.

A Democratic win would increase the likelihood of a breakthrough in a parliamentary stalemate that has foiled policy implementation as Japan struggles with its deepest recession since World War II.

The Asahi newspaper reported that Aso, 68, was finalizing plans to change the top party leadership line-up and some Cabinet members in a day or two to improve the party's tattered image.

"I have been thinking this should be done at an appropriate time with appropriate people," Aso told reporters.

Speculation has focused on whether Aso would relieve Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano of one or more of the three portfolios he now holds, and the possibility he might draft a popular comedian-turned-governor for a key domestic post.

The Asahi also said Aso might state his intention to dissolve the lower house before leaving for the July 8-10 Group of Eight summit in Italy, but wait to dissolve the chamber until after a Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election on July 12 that is being closely watched for clues to the party's fate nationwide.

Media said, however, that Aso faced substantial opposition to his plans inside the LDP, where moves to dump him have intensified as fears grow that the party will suffer a bashing in an election many expect in August.


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