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Cautious opposition ponders timing for no-confidence motion

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February 19, 2001 


TOKYO--(AP) - Opposition leaders angry about new blunders by Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori said on Sunday they will try to unseat the unpopular leader, but unsure of their chances of success were careful not to say when.

Mori has been tainted by one scandal after another since taking office last April and has had the lowest public-support ratings for a Japanese premier in decades.

He now appears likely to face a second no-confidence motion over his decision last week to finish a round of golf even after being told that a U.S. Navy submarine had collided with a Japanese fishing vessel.

"We plan to bring a no-confidence motion against the prime minister, but we're waiting for the best opportunity to do it," top Democratic Party lawmaker Naoto Kan said during a talk show on Japan's TV Asahi.

The USS Greeneville on Feb. 9 smashed into and sunk the Ehime Maru fishing vessel off the coast of Hawaii. Of the 35 people aboard, 26 were rescued. Nine people are still missing.

Besides criticism for his delayed response, Mori also faces allegations that he failed to pay taxes on his membership at the country club where he was playing golf.

Even officials of Mori's own ruling Liberal Democratic Party want him out - albeit for different reasons.

Several major newspapers last week said officials of the LDP and its coalition partners had decided to withdraw support for him on concern that Mori could hurt the parties in July elections if he remains in power.

But with the nascent economic recovery at risk, LDP officials are unlikely to dump Mori until after Parliament approves the 82.65-trillion-yen (dlrs 713 billion) budget for the 2001 fiscal year. Approval is expected early next month.

Kan said one reason the opposition remains cautious about its attack is that the parties need the support of the LDP's coalition partners to win backing for a no-confidence motion.

That could prove difficult.

Tetsuzo Fuyushiba, a senior official of coalition partner Komeito Party, said his party will not defect from the LDP-led coalition and would oppose a no-confidence motion.

Takeshi Noda, secretary-general of the Conservative Party, a smaller coalition partner, also voiced support for the ruling alliance during the television program.

Repeated gaffes by Mori and a series of scandals involving his staff prompted the opposition to lodge a no-confidence motion against the prime minister in November.

Mori narrowly survived the vote.

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