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Japan's PM reshuffles Cabinet to win tax support

Japan's leader reshuffles Cabinet to win opposition support for tax hike proposal
Reported by Malcolm Foster, The Associated Press
The Canadian Press
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TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda replaced five members of his Cabinet on Friday in a bid to win more co-operation from the opposition to raise the sales tax and rein in the country's bulging fiscal deficit.

Two of the removed ministers had been censured by the opposition for making comments that were deemed inappropriate. Twelve posts were unchanged, including finance and foreign minister.

Noda, who took office in September, says Japan urgently needs to take steps to reduce its debt burden as the nation ages and its labour force shrinks, putting a greater burden on the social security and tax system.

He has promised to submit a bill in the next parliamentary session to raise the 5 per cent sales tax in two stages, to 8 per cent in 2014 and to 10 per cent by 2015. Noda named Katsuya Okada, a former foreign minister, as deputy prime minister to spearhead those tax and social security reform efforts.

In announcing the new lineup, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said the reshuffle will "strengthen our government to tackle the major policy goal of social security and tax reforms."

Noda has seen his public approval rating slide below 40 per cent amid resistance to raising the sales tax and a general lack of confidence in political leadership in Japan.

The new defence minister, Naoki Tanaka, a relative of former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, is replacing Yasuo Ichikawa, who was censured in the upper house of parliament. Ichikawa was criticized for claiming that he was unaware of the details of a 1995 rape of a schoolgirl by three U.S. servicemen on the island of Okinawa — an incident that continues to deeply impact local support for the large American troop presence there.

Jin Matsubara will replace consumer affairs minister Kenji Yamaoka, who was censured for making comments in support of a pyramid marketing scheme, perceived as shady in Japan.

Noda said the government's priorities also include leading reconstruction efforts after last March's devastating tsunami and bringing "rebirth" to the area around the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant. The government declared a month ago that the plant is essentially stable despite widespread skepticism, with experts warning it remains vulnerable to earthquakes.

The Cabinet was to be formally installed later Friday in a palace ceremony with the emperor.

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Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi and Eric Talmadge contributed to this report.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2011