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Leader of Japan's Opposition Party to Resign

The leader of Japan's largest opposition Democratic Party plans to resign. Yukio Hatoyama had been under heavy pressure to step down since his party's poor showing in October by-elections. He announced he decision Tuesday. He says he does not think the Democratic Party is in good condition and he has decided to resign on December 13. He adds that he hopes people will understand his decision.

The move follows strong criticism of Mr. Hatoyama's proposal to merge his party with smaller opposition groups. Other politicians lashed out at him for announcing the plan without seeking their approval.

But Mr. Hatoyama's problems have deeper roots. His party performed badly in the last by-election in October. The ruling bloc, led by the Liberal Democratic Party, won five of the seven Parliament seats that were up for grabs. The ruling coalition now controls 279 seats in the powerful lower house of Parliament, compared with the Democratic Party's 125 seats.

In addition, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is widely seen as having co-opted the opposition party's economic agenda of cleaning up the banking sector and wrenching power away from government bureaucrats and other vested interests.

Mr. Koizumi is having to battle fiercely with the old guard in his own party to achieve his goals. While critics say he has made little progress, the prime minister has attracted some opposition supporters, pushing the Democratic Party's support rate to below four percent.

It is unclear who will replace Mr. Hatoyama, but some insiders say it could be Naoto Kan. Mr. Kan is a co-founder of the Democratic Party and is well known in Japan for battling bureaucrats over an AIDS scandal and other public health issues.