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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Apologetic Hashimoto Makes Slashing Debt Japan's Priority

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, still reeling from harsh criticism for appointing a convicted criminal to a key Cabinet post, vowed Monday to overhaul Japan's bureaucracy and debt-ridden government finances.

But despite Hashimoto's pledge to carry out the tough task of reform, a 75-day parliamentary session that started Monday could be thrown into turmoil as the opposition camp targeted his failed attempt to place a scandal-tainted colleague in his Cabinet.

Hashimoto began his policy speech on the first day of the extraordinary parliamentary session by apologizing for having appointed Koko Sato, convicted of taking bribes in the Lockheed payoff scandal in the 1970s, to head the Management and Coordination Agency.

"While reflecting deeply on my neglect of public opinion, I apologize for having caused great trouble," Hashimoto said.

The opposition camp vowed to grill Hashimoto for his appointment of Sato, who was forced to resign a week ago after serving only 11 days as the first convicted criminal in the Japanese Cabinet in modern times.

Opinion polls showed public support for Hashimoto's Cabinet plummeted following Sato's appointment, with a majority of voters blaming Hashimoto himself for the decision.

Hashimoto said he would place top priority on enacting "fiscal structural reform" aimed at slashing the fiscal deficit to three percent or less of the nation's gross domestic product by fiscal 2003. The government would also have to stop selling bonds to finance the deficit by that time.

He said the long-term debts of the central and local governments were expected to reach 476 trillion yen ($3.93 trillion) by the end of 1997-98 next March. The deficit is estimated at 5.4 percent of the 1997-98 gross domestic product. "Fiscal reform is the most important legislation facing this Diet session," Hashimoto said.

(Reuters, Bloomberg)