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Japan Parliament Rejects No-Confidence Vote - 2002-02-05

The lower house of Japan's parliament on Tuesday rejected a no-confidence motion against the agriculture minister, Tsutomu Takebe. Opposition parties submitted the motion over his handling of a mad cow disease scare, but it is seen as an attempt to discredit Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Japan's ruling coalition had sufficient votes in parliament to defeat the no-confidence motion against Farm Minister Tsutomo Takebe. His handling of a mad cow disease crisis received much criticism and cost the cattle industry tens of millions of dollars. The no-confidence motion accused him of trying to hide the seriousness of the outbreak and taking a casual approach to probing its origins.

The appearance of the disease in Japan caused a public health scare, since it has been linked to a fatal human variation.

After the vote, Mr. Takebe talked to reporters, accepting responsibility for the crisis, but he said he has no intention of stepping down.

But while the motion was against the farm minister, many Japanese voters see it as the opposition parties' attempt to discredit Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Surveys show his popularity has plummeted after he abruptly ousted the popular Makiko Tanaka as his foreign minister last week. Until then, he had enjoyed unprecedented popular approval ratings of 70 percent or more.

Mr. Koizumi has vowed to revive Japan's ailing economy through a series of structural reforms that have won widespread public support. But the plan is unpopular with many of his rivals, both within his own ruling bloc and among opposition groups.

Mr. Koizumi's coalition partners on Tuesday underscored their support for him but also urged him to speed-up his reform plans.

Ms. Tanaka, who was pushed out of office following a series of squabbles with her aides, also has voiced some criticism of the Koizumi administration. She said Monday that the prime minister should reform Japan's political system, in addition to the economy.