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UPDATED: 12:35, September 27, 2004
Koizumi reshuffles ruling party leadership
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Japanese Prime Minister reshuffled his ruling party leadership Monday morning and is set to do the same to his cabinet later in the day as he is ardently pushing forward sweeping reforms.

Tsutomu Takebe, a former farm minister, was appointed the secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Koizumi also named LDP Acting Secretary General Fumio Kyuma, 63, as chairman of the party's decision-making General Council and former Trade and Industry Minister Kaoru Yosano, 66, as chairman of the Policy Research Council.

The three told a press conference after the appointments that they will help Koizumi fulfill his reform project.

"I would like to devote myself to accomplish Prime Minister Koizumi's reform," Takebe said.

Takebe, 63, was appointed to succeed Shinzo Abe, who resigned last week. Abe will stay on in the party leadership as acting secretary general.

LDP Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Hidenao Nakagawa retained the post.

Abe said he was surprise to be remained. "I am really surprised.The premier told me it was a strong request by new Secretary General Takebe and that he wanted me to take the acting post as well as proceed with the party reform," he said.

Koizumi reportedly asked Abe to stay on, but Abe was determined to leave in a gesture to take responsibility for LDP's setback in the upper house election in July.

In addition, Abe, 50, and his supporters have planned to keep a distance from Koizumi after stepping down as secretary general in preparation for the contention for the premiership, according to Kyodo News.

Koizumi had said he would pick strong advocates for his reform policies to the party leadership and the cabinet but strike a balance between party factions.

Local media portrait Kyuma as an all-round policy maker in the party reshuffle. He served as Defense Agency director general in the cabinet of Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto between 1996 and 1998.

At the time, he made efforts to review guidelines on defense cooperation between Japan and the United States.

The upcoming new cabinet will be the fourth one since Koizumi took office in April 2001. The premier had suggested he would retain economic and fiscal policy minister Heizo Takenaka. But Takenaka is widely expected to be switched to a new post of postal reform minister, Japanese media said.

Kazuo Kitagawa, the policy chief of the LDP's coalition partner, the New Komeito party, and Hidehisa Otsuji, an LDP member of the House of Councillors, are also expected to be given cabinet posts, local media said.

The reshuffles is pivotal for Koizumi to carry out his large-scale reforms, centered on the privatization of Japan's postal services.

The current cabinet approved early this month an outline for the reform of the postal services, featuring dividing and privatizing the Japan Post.

Under the program, the current titanic Japan Post would be divided into four companies for mail delivery, postal savings, life insurance and management of the network of over-the-counter services at post offices.

The privatization process is expected to start in April 2007 and complete by 2017.

The move has met considerable resistance from LDP's vested interest groups.

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