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Japan PM Ousts Top Financial Official - 2002-09-30

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi expelled one of his chief financial officials, in the first cabinet reshuffle of his administration. The changes are aimed at underscoring the prime minister's commitment to reform.

Prime Minister Koizumi on Monday ousted Financial Services Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa who had been seen as opposing aggressive reform of the ailing banking sector.

The pro-reform economics minister, Heizo Takenaka, will now also be in charge of financial services. Speaking after his additional appointment, Mr. Takenaka pledged to work closely with other economic officials to solve the country's financial woes and said he would examine a number of different policy options.

Japan's banks are struggling with a mountain of bad loans on their books, thanks to overly generous corporate lending policies. These debts are now threatening to destabilize the Japanese banking industry, and Mr. Koizumi has vowed to act aggressively to clean up the sector.

The prime minister also chose a new defense minister-Shigeru Ishiba. His predecessor, Gen Nakatani, was expected to go following an administrative scandal at his ministry earlier this year.

Another new face in the Koizumi cabinet is Agriculture Minister Tadamori Oshima. He replaces Tsutomo Takebe, who critics say did a poor job of handling an outbreak of mad cow disease in Japan.

Mr. Koizumi also appointed a new official to oversee the police and created a new portfolio to coordinate disaster prevention. But all other members of the 17-member cabinet will stay on.

The prime minister, who took office 18 months ago, says that all of his new choices will help him with bold reforms to get the world's second largest economy back on track after a sluggish decade.