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Japan's parties out of favour

JAPANESE voters are becoming increasingly disaffected with the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Socialist Party, which dominated the political scene for four decades but have recently been doing their best to block new policies introduced by the Prime Minister, Morihiro Hosokawa. In the latest impasse, rebellious Socialists are holding up an economic stimulus package worth nearly pounds 90bn because of a dispute over tax reform.

According to an opinion poll carried by the daily Yomiuri newspaper yesterday, only 25 per cent of those polled would vote for the LDP, down 6 per cent from the response before last summer's elections. The Socialists would only get 8 per cent of the vote, a fall of 7 per cent.

The poll was carried out after the watered-down political reform bill was agreed upon by the main parties 10 days ago, but respondents indicated they did not think enough had been done to clean up the system of money politics that has dogged Japan for years. Forty-six per cent said that preventing political corruption should still be one of the government's main priorities.

Nor was there much sympathy for the Socialists' blocking of the economic package. Sixty-eight per cent said the government should be doing more to revive the economy, in recession for two years and now starting to cause job losses.

The seven-party coalition government of Mr Hosokawa met several times over the weekend to find a compromise on the proposed tax reform. After a meeting yesterday, coalition members said they thought an agreement would be reached today, allowing the announcement of the whole stimulus package.

Japan is to scale down its production of plutonium from spent nuclear fuel, a key pillar of its energy policy, as a result of international disapproval, Reuter reports.