Japan’s Shinzo Abe Congratulated by Obama on Election Win

President Barack Obama applauded former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe on his conservative opposition’s electoral win Sunday, saying he looked forward to working with the next government.

Voters dumped Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda three years after his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) promised a change from more than half a century of almost unbroken rule by Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

“I congratulate Liberal Democratic Party President Shinzo Abe on his party’s success in the elections in Japan today,” Obama said in a statement.

“The US-Japan Alliance serves as the cornerstone of peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific and I look forward to working closely with the next government and the people of Japan on a range of important bilateral, regional and global issues.”

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Japan polls show Liberal Democratic Party on its way to a sweeping victory

With just days to go before Japan’s lower house election determines the next government, local media polls showed Tuesday that the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party was on its way to a sweeping victory that could hand it and its smaller ally a two-thirds majority, allowing it to enact badly needed legislation that has been roadblocked for years.

Should the LDP and its ally, New Komeito, secure 320 or more lower-house seats, they could override any upper house veto, overcoming the gridlock of a “divided” parliament. Earlier this year, the passage of budget-related legislation was delayed by combined resistance by the opposition parties in the upper house.

The results of a survey by the Mainichi daily newspaper showed that the LDP appeared set to single-handedly win nearly 300 of 480 lower-house seats. Combined with those of New Komeito, the total could surpass 320.

The nationwide poll was conducted by telephone Saturday through Monday. The Mainichi said its projections were based on a survey of around 77,000 voters and additional reporting from its bureaus nationwide.

Polls released last week also projected a solid LDP majority. But the Mainichi survey is the first indicating that the former ruling combination of the LDP and New Komeito could secure a two-thirds majority.

The survey also projected Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s ruling Democratic Party of Japan is in for a crushing defeat, securing less than a third of its current 230 seats. That is a more dismal scenario than in earlier surveys projecting the DPJ losing over half its seats.

Japan’s government criticizes nuke plant operator, TEPCO

Japan’s government revealed a series of missteps by the operator of a radiation-leaking nuclear plant on Saturday, including sending workers in without protective footwear in its faltering efforts to control a monumental crisis. The U.S. Navy, meanwhile, rushed to deliver fresh water to replace corrosive salt water now being used in a desperate bid to cool the plant’s overheated reactors.

Government spokesman Yukio Edano urged Tokyo Electric Power Co. to be more transparent, two days after two workers at the tsunami-damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi plant suffered skin burns when they stepped in water that was 10,000 times more radioactive than levels normally found near the reactors.

"We strongly urge TEPCO to provide information to the government more promptly," Edano said.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, or NISA, said TEPCO was aware there was high radiation in the air at one of the plant’s six units several days before the accident. And the two workers injured were wearing boots that only came up to their ankles — hardly high enough to protect their legs, agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said.

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Japan’s New Foreign Minister – Yukio Edano

A high-ranking foreign ministry official will become Japan’s new top diplomat, after his predecessor resigned over the weekend for accepting illegal political donations, the government announced Wednesday.

State Secretary Takeaki Matsumoto will be promoted to foreign minister later Wednesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said. He will replace Seiji Maehara, who stepped down Sunday for receiving political donations from a foreigner, which is prohibited in Japan.

The government moved quickly to replace Maehara, who served in the post for just six months. His sudden resignation was a blow to Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s beleaguered government, which is facing public approval ratings below 20 percent.

Kan, who is trying to pass key legislation for his new budget through a gridlocked parliament, had promised to root out "money politics" after a veteran power broker in his party was caught up in a funding scandal.

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Japan hauling pirates to Tokyo to face trail

Japan plans to transfer to Tokyo four pirates who attacked an oil tanker off Oman and were captured by US and Turkish forces, so that they can face trial, media reports have said.

The Japanese-owned oil tanker the Guanabara was attacked on Saturday in the Indian Ocean about 400 nautical miles east of Oman, according to Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, the operator of the tanker registered in the Bahamas.

The pirates were seized by US and Turkish naval units Sunday. None of the 24 crew, all of whom are non-Japanese, was injured and there was no oil or petroleum product leak from the 57,462-ton ship, the company said.

The crew of the tanker, which was en route from Ukraine to China, included 18 Filipinos and two nationals each from Croatia, Montenegro and Romania.

Japan now plans to bring in the suspects to face trial, the first time it would make use of a 2009 anti-piracy law, Jiji Press and other media reported.

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Can Naoto Kan Survive?

In a country that has had six prime ministers in the last five years, Naoto Kan must be feeling like a veteran: he has lasted 270 days in office, which is 11 days longer than his predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama.

But his time may be up, too, after the resignation at the weekend of his foreign minister, Seiji Maehara,.

When the Guardian interviewed him recently, Maehara was seen as a rising star in the Democratic party, as it tries to cleanse itself of the taint left by its former leader Ichiro Ozawa, who was indicted in a political financing case.

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China Tracks Down Foreign Journalists and Detains

Western journalists have lately been tolerated in China, if grudgingly, but the spread of revolution in the Middle East has prompted the authorities here to adopt a more familiar tack: suddenly, foreign reporters are being tracked and detained in the same manner — though hardly as roughly — as political dissidents.

On Sunday, about a dozen European and Japanese journalists in Shanghai were herded into an underground bunker-like room and kept for two hours after they sought to monitor the response to calls on an anonymous Internet site for Chinese citizens to conduct a “strolling” protest against the government outside the Peace Cinema, near Peace Square in Shanghai.

In Beijing, several plainclothes officers planted themselves on Saturday night outside the home of a Bloomberg News correspondent who was severely beaten by security officers the previous week as he sought to cover a similar Internet-inspired protest there. In a telephone interview, the correspondent said that seven officers in two separate cars had trailed him to a basketball game on Sunday, recording his trip on video the entire time.

Read the rest of the story: China Tracks Foreign Journalists, Unnerved by Mideast Tumult.

Japan’s foreign minister quits over illegal donation

Japans foreign minister suddenly quit Sunday for having accepted a political donation from a foreigner — a violation of Japanese law — dealing another blow to the embattled administration of Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

Seiji Maehara, 48, was foreign minister for just six months, and was viewed as a leading candidate to succeed Kan.

Maehara acknowledged receiving 50,000 yen $590 last year from a 72-year-old Korean woman who has lived most of her life in Japan. He said they had been friends since his childhood.

Some Japanese newspapers, however, said her donations over the past several years totaled 250,000 yen $3,000.Japanese law makes it very hard for foreigners to become citizens, even if their families have lived in the country for generations. The foreign residents include hundreds of thousands of ethnic Koreans, many descended from laborers brought forcibly to Japan during World War II.

Japans political funding law prohibits lawmakers from accepting donations from any foreigners, even those born in Japan.

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Opposition calls on Japan’s Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara to quit

Japan’s biggest opposition parties Sunday called on Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara to resign for accepting donations from a foreign national, piling more pressure on the embattled government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

Maehara, a security hawk who is often cited as a possible successor to the unpopular Kan, has said he would not quit, but added that it was up to the prime minister to decide his fate.

Maehara’s resignation would be a blow to Kan and his ruling Democratic Party (DPJ) as the prime minister fights to keep his own job and avoid calling a snap election while trying to enact budget bills in a divided parliament.

"A foreign minister is at the forefront of negotiations with foreign countries. If a person in that post has taken donations from foreign nationals, resignation is unavoidable," Yosuke Takagi, acting secretary-general of the New Komeito party, said in a televised debate.

New Komeito is the second-largest opposition behind the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

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Japan to rethink aid for booming China

Japan will review and possibly cut financial aid to China, in light of Beijing’s growing economic power, the nation’s foreign ministry said Friday.

"With China overtaking Japan in terms of gross domestic product, it is completely inconceivable for Japan, which has been outranked, to increase its ODA (official development assistance)," said Japan’s foreign minister, Seiji Maehara, on the floor of the parliament Friday.

Last year, China overtook Japan as the world’s second largest economy.

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