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LDP warns Japan of foreign 'barbarians'

TOKYO - Racist slurs against foreigners are the latest tactic in election campaigning by increasingly desperate politicians from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Japan. As the party faces its first loss at the polls in four decades, senior members this weekend labelled the Russian Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, a 'hairy barbarian', and said that the US was a pit of violence, Aids and drug-abusers, writes Terry McCarthy.

Politicians in Japan often play to the xenophobic element in the Japanese character, particularly when they are in their own constituencies far from Tokyo. Usually their comments are not picked up by the media, but in this election campaign politicians' words are being followed closely.

Most provocative was Shintaro Ishihara, a senior LDP member, and one of a group of three who have been given the task of revitalising the party's image.

While campaigning on the southern tip of Japan on Saturday, Mr Ishihara, who personifies the right wing of the LDP, attacked Mr Kozyrev, who had accompanied President Boris Yeltsin to Tokyo for the G7 summit.

'Prime minister Kiichi Miyazawa greeted Kozyrev with a smile, but his eyes were not smiling. The hairy barbarian greeted Miyazawa joyfully and shook hands. When a white man comes, Miyazawa just welcomes them too much. If I were prime minister, I would keep silent, with my hands deep in my pockets.'

Meanwhile Michio Watanabe, a former foreign minister with a record of racist remarks, hit out at the US and Italy in a speech on Saturday. In the US, he said, one out of several hundred people had Aids, and marijuana was for sale everywhere. 'With such people losing their tempers easily, the number of murders there is high, much higher than in Japan.'

He tried to link the LDP with safe living: 'Japan is a safe country, with less crime, fewer drug addicts and Aids patients, so is it right to say Japanese politics are wrong?'

The LDP has been campaigning on stability. In another speech Mr Watanabe hit out at Italy, whose politics would be reproduced in Japan if the LDP lost the elections. 'As in Italy, the cabinet would change frequently, which would disturb the economy and increase the number of thefts and rapes and other types of violent acts.'