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Koizumi fills key party posts
( 2003-09-21 14:48) (Agencies)

Hoping to strengthen his power base after winning a three-year term as head of Japan's ruling party, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Sunday filled several key party positions and prepared to choose a new lineup for his Cabinet.

Bowing to pressure from his rivals, Koizumi replaced ally Taku Yamasaki in the Liberal Democratic Party's No. 2 slot of secretary general with Shinzo Abe, a popular and outspoken rising star who has recently made a name for himself by advocating a hard line toward North Korea.

Yamasaki would stay on as vice president, said LDP spokeswoman Mariko Kodera.

Koizumi's re-election on Saturday has given the popular leader a new mandate to push ahead with his austere economic policies and efforts to reform Japan's government. Koizumi's opponents have criticized him for not doing enough to turn around the economy, which is in the midst of its worst slowdown in decades.

Koizumi won re-election by a wide margin, taking 399 of 657 votes cast by legislators and the party's rank and file. He was to meet with leaders of the party's two junior coalition partners and announce the Cabinet on Monday.

When he won his first term in April 2001, Koizumi surprised ! and angered ! many in the ruling party by ignoring the delicate factional balance of power and instead making the unusual move of naming several Cabinet ministers from the private sector.

On Saturday, he said he was ready for a fight.

"I am sure there will be people who aren't satisfied," he told a rally just before winning re-election. "I haven't made any promises to anyone."

His Cabinet selections were being closely watched as an indication of whether he will stick with economic reforms that have been panned by many within the party.

The most important position up for grabs in the Cabinet was the post of finance minister. Koizumi's current minister, 81-year-old Masajuro Shiokawa, is in ill health.

The fate of his economic policy adviser, former professor Heizo Takenaka, was also a focus of intense speculation. Koizumi has repeatedly defended Takenaka, whose crackdown on banks has been criticized by lawmakers but lauded by foreign investors.

Koizumi vowed Saturday to continue to push for deregulation and privatization of government institutions like the post office and the highway system. He has stood by government spending limits.

Though unemployment and bankruptcies remain high, recent government figures have given his case a boost.

Statistics released last week showed the economy grew at an annualized rate of 3.9 percent in the most recent quarter ! faster than the 2.4 percent posted by the United States.

His challengers say only more public spending ! and a freeze on some of Koizumi's reforms ! can ensure a recovery.

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