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IN THE NEWS - Fukuda Takes Office in Tokyo, and First Issue is Crisis in Burma

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This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Photo released by Democratic Voice of Burma showing Japanese journalist as he lays in the street after being shot in Rangoon, 27 Sep 2007
Photo released by Democratic Voice of Burma showing Japanese journalist as he lays in the street after being shot in Rangoon, 27 Sep 2007

Japan's new prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, took office this week -- and quickly faced a crisis. The unrest in Burma claimed the life of a Japanese cameraman. Kenji Nagai was shot Thursday as security forces moved to crush anti-government demonstrations.

Mister Fukuda rejected the idea of immediate economic sanctions. He directed a Foreign Ministry official to go and push the government for a full explanation.

Japan provides aid, but not as much since the military in Burma violently suppressed protests for democracy in nineteen eighty-eight. The next year, the generals ruling Burma changed its name to Myanmar, a name the United States and Britain do not recognize.

Mister Fukuda spoke Friday by phone with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao about the situation in China's neighbor. He said he asked that China, given its close ties, exercise its influence and that Premier Wen said he will make such efforts.

Yasuo Fukuda
Yasuo Fukuda

Mister Fukuda of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party easily won election Tuesday in the lower house of parliament. The upper house rejected him. Opposition parties won control of the upper house in July. But the L.D.P. still controls the lower house. And the vote of the lower house decides the winner in such a split.

This was the first split vote of this kind since nineteen ninety-eight. Mister Fukuda's closest competitor was main opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa.

The new prime minister is seen as politically moderate. He says one of his goals will be to repair public trust in the ruling party. The L.D.P. has recently faced a series of investigations of financial wrongdoing involving cabinet members.

Mister Fukuda has kept much of Shinzo Abe's cabinet. Nobutaka Machimura, the foreign minister under Mister Abe, will serve as chief cabinet secretary. Former defense minister Masahiko Komura will serve as foreign minister.

Mister Abe resigned on September twelfth after only one year as prime minister. He has apologized for resigning suddenly. He said he did so only because of health reasons.

Mister Fukuda is seventy-one years old. He is the eldest son of former prime minister Takeo Fukuda. And he served as chief cabinet secretary under Junichiro Koizumi.

His success could depend on his ability to find a way to work with the opposition. An early test will involve Japan's naval refueling operations in support of American-led forces in Afghanistan.

The mission began in two thousand one. Legislation supporting it will end on November first unless Japan extends it. Mister Fukuda supports the idea. But opposition parties are expected to resist an extension.

He also faces a high government debt and a longtime budget deficit. Japan has the world's second largest economy after the United States.

Japanese newspapers found that more than half the public supported the new prime minister and his cabinet. He gives a policy speech next week.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.

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