Japan's Ruling Party Moves to Quash Mutiny Over Mori

From Associated Press

A leader of Japan's ruling party tried Sunday to quash a mutiny by its legislators, threatening to expel party members who support a vote in parliament to remove Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori.

The tough stance by Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Hiromu Nonaka signaled that the party leadership had given up on attempts at compromise to heal the deepening rift ahead of the no-confidence motion, expected today.

Earlier Sunday, Nonaka tried to placate the mutinous lawmakers by offering early party leadership elections that could dump Mori, if they agreed not to back the motion. But other party leaders opposed the plan, news reports said.

Nonaka then announced that legislators who vote for the motion will be banished from the party.

Mori, who has remained almost entirely out of sight during the heated political feud, still has no intention of resigning, Mori spokesman Kazuhiko Koshikawa said Sunday night.

"My understanding is that the prime minister has no plans to resign before the vote, and that's what he has been saying all along," Koshikawa said.

In the last few weeks, lawmaker Koichi Kato has driven the LDP to the brink of a split by criticizing the gaffe-prone Mori, whose disapproval ratings are above 70%.

Mori's missteps since taking office in April have irked not only many LDP members but also opposition politicians and much of the public. His mistakes include comments reminiscent of prewar militarism and indelicate remarks regarding relations with North Korea.

With the support of Kato and his allies, the no-confidence motion would almost certainly pass. The premier then would have to step down or call a general election within 10 days.

The crisis is the LDP's deepest since 1993, when a group of lawmakers bolted the party and dislodged it from power for the first time in nearly four decades.

It has set off a political furor in Japan, where consensus is taken very seriously and where members of parliament nearly always toe their party line.

Nonaka issued a statement Sunday night calling the actions of Kato and Taku Yamasaki, another leading anti-Mori lawmaker, "a betrayal to the party" and urged them to leave the party, Kyodo News agency said.

Kato responded that he would not leave the LDP and said his expulsion would be "undemocratic . . . like something that would happen in a developing country."

There has been speculation that Kato might eventually set up a party of his own.

On Sunday, Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama expressed pessimism that the revolt would lead to real change in Japanese politics. "I'm afraid it will just be settled as an internal LDP matter," he said.

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