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June 20, 2000

 

TOKYO (AP) - Noboru Takeshita, a scandal-tainted former prime minister who mentored a  generation of Japanese leaders as a behind-the-scenes "shadow shogun," died Monday after a lengthy illness. He was 76.

     

Takeshita died from respiratory failure at a Tokyo hospital a month after he officially retired from politics. 

  

He was lauded as a longtime driving force in Japanese government.

    

"There was no other politician who has trained so many people in the political world," Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa said.

       

Takeshita was driven from the premiership by scandal, but his power only increased. At the height of his influence, Takeshita could anoint leaders and banish them as a master of the consensus-building at the center of Japanese politics.

  

"His power was not based on his charisma or his smartness, but on his ability to get more allies by handing out money and networking behind the scenes," said Hokkaido University politics professor Jiro Yamaguchi, adding that his negotiating talent "reached the level of an art."

  

Demure in manner and evasive of speech, Takeshita headed the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's largest faction in Parliament until turning over the position to Keizo Obuchi in the mid-1990s, but he retained great influence. The LDP has ruled almost without a break since 1955.

  

Obuchi later became prime minister. When he suffered a fatal stroke in April, his successor was Yoshiro Mori.

  

Takeshita was hospitalized in April 1999 with lower back pain and announced his retirement from politics last month. As is common with ailing politicians in Japan, little information was released about Takeshita's health. His retirement speech was recorded by aides, and part of it was played on national television.

 

Takeshita was forced from office in 1989 after admitting to accepting illicit stock and cash donations from the marketing firm Recruit Co. He was never charged. One of his top aides committed suicide that year, prompting speculation in the Japanese media that he may have chosen death over disclosure of his boss's wrongdoing.

 

Takeshita's own mentor, Kakuei Tanaka, prime minister from 1972 to 1974, was arrested in 1976 and convicted of taking bribes from U.S. aircraft maker Lockheed. He died in 1993 while his case was on

appeal.

 

Takeshita's death came in the midst of campaigning for Sunday's elections for the 480-member lower house of Parliament.

 

Top government spokesman Mikio Aoki canceled a campaign tour in western Japan and was returning to Tokyo, national broadcaster NHK television reported. TV footage showed LDP Secretary-General Hiromu Nonaka visiting Takeshita's Tokyo home, where his body was taken.

 

Son of a sake-brewer in Shimane prefecture, Takeshita, like many members of Japan's elite, graduated from prestigious Waseda University in Tokyo.

 

He was an English teacher before turning to politics but confessed to not speaking the language very well. He was first elected to Parliament in 1958.

 

Takeshita was finance minister in 1985, when a foreign-exchange rate agreement by the world's industrial powers sent the Japanese yen soaring, setting off the roaring "bubble" economy.

 

Takeshita also served in the key post of construction minister and held the powerful position of chief Cabinet secretary.

 

As prime minister, Takeshita maintained his party's conservative, pro-business and pro-U.S. philosophy.

 

An unpopular sales tax passed during his term, combined with the corruption scandals, led to the LDP's massive and humiliating defeat in the 1989 upper house elections.

 

Survivors include a wife and three daughters. A wake was scheduled for Tuesday, and a private funeral was set for Wednesday.

 


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