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Koizumi appoints new foreign minister

Kawaguchi is now one of four women in Koizumi's cabinet
Kawaguchi is now one of four women in Koizumi's cabinet  

TOKYO, Japan -- Japan's environment minister has been chosen by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi as the new head of the country's foreign ministry.

Yoriko Kawaguchi replaces former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka, who was forced to quit earlier this week over a feud inside her ministry which Koizumi said was stalling crucial budget legislation.

The announcement coincides with some worrying reports for the prime minister showing his approval rating slashed to 34 percent and a statement from the credit rating agency Standard and Poor's that it may lower Japan's rating if its economy continues to stagnate.

Kawaguchi, 61, one of four women in Koizumi's cabinet is a former businesswoman was a one-time senior bureaucrat in the trade ministry.

Announcing her appointment Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said the government had sounded out the highly respected former United Nations' High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata -- but she had turned down the post for personal reasons.

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Ogata had been seen as the number one choice for the post because her popularity might have helped patch up the damage caused by Tanaka's dismissal.

Several morning editions of Japanese newspapers carried reports predicting that she would take the post.

Commenting on Tanaka's removal earlier this week Koizumi said it was a "difficult decision" but he had to bring the situation under control.

He also expressed concern over the myriad of confrontations between Tanaka and ministry bureaucrats since her appointment to the cabinet in late April which he said were preventing Japan's diplomatic activities from proceeding smoothly.

"I wanted to normalize the debate over the budget. In this severe economic situation the budget must be passed as soon as possible. We must also think of our interests in diplomatic affairs," he said.

Tanaka had been dogged by controversy from the first days of her appointment as foreign minister.

She once called the ministry a "den of devils, an evil place where conspiracies are plotted".

Her outspokenness earned her several enemies in the bureacracy, who fought back by leaking every action by Tanaka that could be portrayed negatively and by blocking her choices for new appointments and transfers in the ministry.

Nonetheless Tanaka was popular with voters because of her willingness to take on the all-powerful bureaucracy.




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