New Japanese PM unveils youthful cabinet

TOKYO, Sept 2, 2011 (AFP) - Japan's new prime minister Yoshihiko Noda on Friday named a youthful cabinet lacking the usual political heavyweights, as he attempts to unite a divided party and safeguard a fragile post-quake recovery.

AFP - Japan's new Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda arrives at his official residence in Tokyo on September 2, 2011

Japan's sixth new leader in five years gave the key posts of foreign and finance ministers to two allies in their 40s, considered young in Japanese politics for such roles.

The position of finance minister went to relative unknown Jun Azumi, 49, against expectations Noda would pick a veteran from his ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) to wrestle with the world's biggest debt burden.

Koichiro Gemba, 47, becomes foreign minister.

Some party bosses, including former foreign minister Katsuya Okada, reportedly rejected Noda's offer of key posts, while analysts said his choices were aimed at appeasing factions rather than building on individual experience.

The new cabinet, unveiled by new Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, was expected to be sworn in by Emperor Akihito later Friday.

"The appointments were aimed at achieving party unity," Fujimura told a press conference, adding that the new government's priorities were recovery from the March disasters, resolution of the nuclear crisis and fiscal reform.

Noda has pledged to be a peacemaker in the ruling centre-left DPJ, which is deeply split between supporters and foes of veteran powerbroker Ichiro Ozawa, indicted in a political funding scandal.

In doing so he is hoping to regain momentum lost since the DPJ ended half a century of conservative rule with their 2009 poll win, and help drive forward recovery from the March disasters that left over 20,000 dead or missing.

Azumi, from the northeastern prefecture of Miyagi that was devastated by the earthquake and tsunami, was a reporter for the state broadcaster NHK before entering politics.

Seen as having strong ties with the opposition, he faces tough tasks in shielding the economy from a yen hovering near postwar highs and addressing a ballooning public debt as an ageing population increases social security costs.

"Azumi is likely to follow Noda's financial policy and to be controlled by finance ministry bureaucrats," said Tetsuro Kato, professor of politics at Waseda University in Tokyo.

"Because he is from the disaster-hit region, Noda wants him to take the lead in securing a budget for reconstruction."

Gemba, the new foreign minister, was state minister in charge of national strategy in the outgoing cabinet. Japanese diplomacy was heavily tested last year by territorial disputes with China and Russia.

He will also have to maintain relations with key ally the United States against a backdrop of protracted discussions over the relocation of a US military base on the southern island of Okinawa.

Yoshio Hachiro, 63, was named Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry. Motohisa Furukawa, 45, assumed the post of national strategy minister and also minister for economic and fiscal policy.

Goshi Hosono, 40, will continue overseeing the resolution of the Fukushima crisis as environment minister in charge of the nuclear power plant disaster.

The cabinet features two women -- Renho, 43, who goes by one name, and health minister Yoko Komiyama, a 62-year-old former NHK anchorwoman.

Noda was elected on Tuesday, inheriting daunting challenges of disaster recovery, a nuclear crisis, a soaring yen and huge public debt. Analysts question his chances of overcoming a revolving door of political leadership.

His predecessor Kan resigned after 14 months in office under fierce criticism of his administration's handling of the earthquake aftermath.

Noda's priority is the passing of a third budget, expected to amount to more than 10 trillion yen ($130 billion), to pay for post-March 11 reconstruction as he looks to revive an economy that has contracted for three straight quarters.

He has advocated higher taxes to fund Japan's post-quake rebuild and help tackle a debt running at more than 200 percent of GDP. Analysts warn such a move would have to be well timed to avoid threatening growth.

Tens of thousands remain evacuated as a result of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, which made some rural areas uninhabitable for years, and contaminated food supplies, some of which have entered the market.

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