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September 10, 2009

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Japan's ruling party forms coalition

JAPAN'S new ruling party is forming a coalition government with two smaller groups, despite differences on foreign policy and on the presence of United States Marines on Okinawa island, party leaders announced yesterday.

The agreement paves the way for Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Hatoyama to put together a new Cabinet.

Hatoyama is almost certain to become Japan's next prime minister in a parliamentary vote scheduled for next Wednesday.

The Democrats won a sweeping victory in elections on August 30 for the 480-seat lower house of parliament, giving them a simple majority.

But they need the coalition with the smaller parties to control the less powerful upper house.

"We are at the starting line for a new government," Hatoyama told a news conference after signing the coalition agreement.

Hatoyama's party will align with the Social Democratic Party and People's New Party to replace the outgoing Liberal Democrats, a pro-big business party that had governed the country for more than 50 years.

Democratic Party of Japan spokesman Toshiaki Oikawa said the secretary-general of the three parties attended talks yesterday at which they largely worked out their differences on defense issues and foreign policy.

The parties have disparate views on what to do about an agreement backed by the outgoing administration to close the US Marine airfield in the crowded city of Futenma and find a new location for it elsewhere on the southern island of Okinawa - an issue that could complicate the new government's relations with the US.

The Democrats have opposed the current plan, with many in the party saying the replacement base should be moved off Okinawa or out of Japan altogether.

The Social Democrats want the base moved out of Japan and want to re-examine the overall security alliance under which 50,000 US troops are stationed in Japan.

Washington has strongly opposed the idea of moving the airfield off Okinawa.

That issue and the question of whether - or how soon - Japan should end its refueling of US ships in the Indian Ocean in support of the US-led coalition in Afghanistan had stalled talks between the three parties, which have already coordinated their stances on measures to fight climate change, plans to freeze a tax hike planned by the outgoing Liberal Democrats and on a review of medical care for the elderly.

Media reports have said 77-year-old veteran lawmaker Hirohisa Fujii is likely to become finance minister, while Naoto Kan, the Democratic Party's acting president, is to head a new agency in charge of setting government policies and strategies.

Social Democrat leader Mizuho Fukushima and People's New Party chief Shizuka Kamei are also expected to get Cabinet positions.


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