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Koizumi Pushes On Amidst Declining Popularity - 2002-02-04

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi vowed Monday to push forward with his economic reform plans amid signs that his popularity is fast fading. His comments in a speech to parliament come as opposition politicians submit a no-confidence motion against his government.

Japanese leader Junichiro Koizumi tried to reassure legislators Monday, telling them he will avert a financial crisis for the world's second largest economy. He says that structural reform is on its way and that this is a year for economic reform.

Mr. Koizumi says he will battle Japan's banking crisis and the country's central bank will help him fight deflation. Economists have warned the country risks a financial crisis if reforms do not come soon.

He recalls the perseverance of past generations of Japanese as an example to the nation, now coping with a recession. Mr. Koizumi says the Japanese built a modern country out of the turmoil of the 1868 Meiji Restoration and rebuilt the country after the World War II.

Mr. Koizumi also says that he will introduce legislation to empower the armed forces in case of a direct attack on Japan. The move is controversial, because the country's pacifist post-war constitution bars Tokyo from using force to settle international conflicts.

The prime minister's speech comes as polls show a dramatic drop in his popularity to fifty percent from about seventy percent. The slide follows his ouster of popular Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka last week. He acknowledges that his approval rating has dropped, and that there are concerns he might backtrack on reform. However, he says his determination will not fail.

Also Monday, opposition parties submitted a no-confidence motion in parliament, targeting Mr. Koizumi's agriculture minister for mishandling an outbreak of mad cow disease. The illness has been linked to a fatal human variant, and beef consumption in Japan has plummeted.

Political analysts say the no-confidence motion is an attempt to unseat the prime minister as he struggles with declining public approval. It is unlikely to pass when it comes to a vote Tuesday, since the ruling coalition has sufficient votes to defeat it.