Japan premier faces crisis over minister's firing

Dismissal may make it harder to rally support


TOKYO - Japan's reformist prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, whose power derives primarily from high approval ratings in opinion polls, faced something of a crisis yesterday as criticism piled up over his firing of his popular foreign minister, Makiko Tanaka.

Koizumi acknowledged the problem at a news conference yesterday, insisting that he would press on with his program of reform. "Yes," he said in answer to a question about Tanaka, "my decision may affect the stability of my administration."

The prime minister has only a small organized faction of support in the Diet, Japan's parliament. Since taking power last year and winning a far higher popular standing than a series of bland predecessors, he has largely succeeded in winning passage of legislation by using his public support to intimidate opponents inside his ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

In a Mainichi newspaper poll last weekend, the approval rating for his Cabinet was 72 percent.

Koizumi may find that his dismissal of Tanaka makes it harder to rally support, because the move was widely seen by reformers as a sop to conservatives in his party.

Analysts say the prime minister risked his credibility by using an apparently trivial pretext for dismissing the foreign minister: a dispute over an attempt to bar two nongovernmental groups from attending the Afghan aid conference in Tokyo last week.

Taking some tension out of the political crisis, Tanaka, a member of parliament, said yesterday that she would continue to support the prime minister "from the shadows."

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