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September 19, 2009

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Japanese Cabinet told to cut waste

JAPAN'S new prime minister ordered his Cabinet yesterday to freeze parts of a massive stimulus package that his government believes are wasteful.

Polls showed strong public support for the new, largely untested Cabinet installed by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who has promised to reinvigorate Japan's anemic economy and put families, not big business, at the center of his policies.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano said Hatoyama told ministers to "thoroughly review and evaluate all projects in the extra budgets to decide whether they should be executed or not" by October 2.

Hatoyama's Democratic party, which overthrew the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party in historic elections late last month, has criticized some of the projects in the 14-trillion-yen (US$154-billion) stimulus package passed by the LDP as wasteful spending, including an animation museum.

A survey by the Mainichi newspaper showed a public approval rating of 77 percent for Hatoyama's Cabinet, the second-highest level after former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's public support of 85 percent when he came to power in April 2001.

Nearly 70 percent of respondents said they had high expectations for the 62-year-old Hatoyama, who took office on Wednesday.

Hatoyama's party swept to power on promises to expand the social safety net and provide cash handouts to families and aid to farmers, moves that critics say will only further expand Japan's massive national debt.

The Democrats say they can pay for the programs by cutting wasteful spending.

Most of the ministers in Hatoyama's Cabinet have little experience.

But many Japanese were heartened that the finance minister post went to veteran lawmaker Hirohisa Fujii, who held that job in the early 1990s under a coalition government that briefly ousted the LDP.

Hatoyama makes his diplomatic debut next week with a visit to the United Nations and the Group of 20 economic summit in Pittsburgh.

He is scheduled to meet United States President Barack Obama on Wednesday.

The new prime minister has said he wants Japan to forge a more independent relationship with the US and review its military presence in Japan, where 50,000 American troops are stationed.

But both Hatoyama's government and Washington have been eager to dispel worries that major changes in the alliance are afoot.


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