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Funding scandal charge adds to crisis

Ichiro Ozawa, the power broker of the Japanese ruling party, was charged yesterday over a funding scandal, adding to Prime Minister Naoto Kan's woes as he struggles to survive in the face of a divided parliament and sagging support.

Mr Ozawa's indictment will give fresh ammunition to opposition parties who control parliament's upper house and are refusing to join multiparty talks on tax reform to curb Japan's huge debt and opposing the government-sponsored budget for the year from April.

The opposition is instead trying to force Mr Kan either to resign or call a snap election for the powerful lower chamber. "We want him [Mr Ozawa] to explain in his own words. We want him to testify in parliament," said Nobuteru Ishihara, secretary general of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party.

Mr Ozawa, a seasoned political strategist who once headed the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), faced mandatory indictment over suspected misreporting by his political funds body after a lay judicial panel decided last year that he must be charged. Mr Ozawa, 68, said he was innocent and told reporters he had no intention of leaving the party.

The scandal has helped drag down voter support for the government to about 30 per cent and caused a split in the DPJ over Mr Ozawa's fate, after Mr Kan hinted that he should leave the DPJ and resign his seat in parliament once he was indicted.