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Japan ruling party lawmakers push PM Aso to quit

MOVES to oust unpopular Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso heated up today as ruling party lawmakers called for a meeting where his critics are set to urge him to resign before an election the party looks likely to lose.

Aso's plan to call an Aug. 30 poll has sparked chaos in the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which surveys show is headed for defeat by the opposition Democratic Party.

A Democratic Party victory in the general election, which must be held by October, would end more than 50 years of almost unbroken rule by the business-friendly LDP and improve chances of resolving a policy deadlock caused by a divided parliament, where the opposition controls the upper house and can delay bills.

Jiji news agency said a petition demanding the meeting of party lawmakers had been handed to LDP Secretary-General Hiroyuki Hosoda. Under party rules, the meeting must be held within seven days, but Aso could dissolve the lower house first.

In a further sign of disarray, Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano -- widely seen as the architect of the Aso administration's economic policies -- and Agriculture Minister Shigeru Ishiba are among those who signed the petition.

The two met the premier yesterday to press home their views on the party's difficulties after a huge loss in a Tokyo assembly election at the weekend.

It was not clear, however, how many of those who signed the petition want to ditch Aso.

Analysts say a last-minute change of leadership ahead of the election would do little to boost the party's fortunes.

"Among those who signed the petition, there are some who want to change the party leader, while there are also opinions that we need to review the outcome of the Tokyo election," former prime minister Yoshiro Mori told a television programme today. "Some also want to have a place to discuss the manifesto."

The Yomiuri newspaper said Yosano, whose own seat in parliament is at risk in the looming election, wanted Aso to step down, but the finance minister has not said so publicly.

Aso plans to dissolve the lower house early next week ahead of the election. He needs agreement from all cabinet members on the dissolution, but can fire them and go ahead with the plan if they refuse.

Yosano said on Wednesday he had not decided whether to sign off on the election plan, but one newspaper quoted a source close to Aso as saying the prime minister would sack him if he refused.


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