Japan ruling party suspends Ozawa

A split in Japans centre-left ruling party deepened Tuesday as it suspended the membership of the premiers key rival, faction boss Ichiro Ozawa, who faces charges over a funding scandal.Prime Minister Naoto Kan — battling cabinet approval ratings below 20 percent and the threat of parliamentary gridlock — last week faced down a revolt by 16 Ozawa supporters who threatened not to vote with his government.Ozawa, a veteran backroom fixer sometimes dubbed the "Shadow Shogun", last year failed in a bid to topple Kan as head of the Democratic Party of Japan DPJ and prime minister but has remained a thorn in his side since then.A scandal over political funding irregularities has long hung over Ozawa and given ammunition to the conservative opposition, which has threatened to block key budget financing bills in the divided Diet legislature.Prosecutors in January indicted Ozawa, 68, over the affair. He and three former aides who also face trial deny any wrongdoing.Ozawa, in talks with the DPJs ethics panel, proclaimed his innocence and said there was "no rational reason" he should be suspended.Kans DPJ has repeatedly urged Ozawa to stand down, worried the scandal will taint the party with the whiff of Japans old-style money politics.

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