Japan PM plots a steady course

JAPAN'S new Socialist Prime Minister, Tomiichi Murayama, sought in his first press conference yesterday to reassure Japan and the world that his government will not lurch to the left or renounce previous foreign policy commitments. Mr Murayama became Prime Minister on Wednesday through a bizarre alliance with his former conservative rivals.

'I know people are worried about my government, both in and out of Japan,' the 70- year-old lifelong Socialist began his news conference. 'My job is to do my best to get rid of these worries.' Mr Murayama said he would not call a snap election, would pursue political reform measures, and uphold previous policies to cut income taxes in order to stimulate the economy.

But scepticism about his leadership continued. Asked whether his party still supported the old Soviet-style politics and economics, the leader of the Socialist Party snapped: 'I am surprised you are asking me questions like that. The word 'socialism' does not appear at all in our party platform.'

In a reversal of previous government policy, he said Japan should not actively seek permanent membership of the UN Security Council - something the pacifist Socialists believe could entail the deployment of Japanese troops overseas.

With a week to go before Mr Murayama is to meet Bill Clinton, at the Group of Seven summit in Naples, he phoned the US President to say that he would not abrogate the US-Japan Security Treaty, against which his party has campaigned strenuously for more than 30 years.

Later Mr Murayama phoned South Korea's President Kim Young Sam to promise that his policy towards the Korean peninsula would not change from the last government.

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