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THE WORLD

Koizumi Defends His First Year

April 27, 2002|From Associated Press

TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi marked one year in office Friday with a spirited defense of his record, telling a skeptical nation that his policies are fixing the economy after more than a decade of stagnation.

Koizumi became prime minister after winning widespread public support by vowing to do away with politics as usual and revive the world's second-largest economy. For months he was seen as a refreshing force, and his public approval ratings exceeded 70% in media polls.

But those ratings have recently fallen below 50% in some surveys, driven down by bickering among Cabinet ministers and a spate of corruption scandals that led to the resignations of two high-profile lawmakers from Koizumi's ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

In a nationally televised news conference Friday, Koizumi punctuated his claim that reforms are working with a piece of good news announced by the government earlier in the day: Unemployment was down to 5.2% in March, its third straight decline and the lowest figure in seven months.

"Last year unemployment hit 5.5%, and some said it would rise to 10%," Koizumi said. The 5.5% figure, recorded in December, was the highest since the government began keeping track in the 1950s.

Koizumi mocked critics who have repeatedly forecast economic collapse for Japan during his tenure. He also said he has tamed opposition within his party to his reforms.

"I've carried out reforms in one year that until now couldn't have been accepted by the LDP," he said, citing the Cabinet's approval Friday of three bills that would privatize the country's postal system, long one of his pet projects.

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