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Last Updated: Sunday, 16 September 2007, 08:01 GMT 09:01 UK
New favourite in Japan's PM race
Taro Aso (left) and Yasuo Fukuda - 16/09/2007
The ruling LDP will choose between the two rivals on 23 September
Japan's former foreign minister Taro Aso has conceded he is unlikely to win upcoming party elections to replace Shinzo Abe as prime minister.

Speaking on a television chat show, he agreed that his rival Yasuo Fukuda was most likely to win the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's leadership vote.

Mr Aso said he was continuing in the race to give party members a choice.

He was the initial front-runner to replace Mr Abe, who resigned on Wednesday after a year in office.

Mr Aso is the Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) deputy leader, but support for Mr Fukuda has shot up since he announced his candidacy on Friday.

Consensual figure

In a televised debate with Mr Aso on Sunday, he said Japan's relationship with the US would continue to be the "cornerstone" of his foreign policy.

Mr Fukuda said he wanted to continue logistical support for the war in Afghanistan despite growing opposition at home.

Fukuda: Urges co-operation with China and softer line on North Korea. Has also said he will not visit Yasukuni shrine
Aso: Conservative and foreign policy hawk who called China "threat to region"

He also said he wanted to pursue a more conciliatory approach with Japan's neighbours China and North Korea.

On Saturday, Mr Fukuda announced he would not visit the contentious Yasukuni shrine, which Japan's neighbours see as a symbol of the country's past militarism.

His rival, Mr Aso, called China's growing military spending a threat to Japan and the region.

Correspondents say the LDP is returning to a more consensual figure in Mr Fukuda following the abrupt resignation of Mr Abe last Wednesday.

A day later he was admitted to hospital suffering from a stress-related stomach complaint.

The party will pick its new leader on 23 September.

The LDP controls the lower house of parliament, so its new leader is guaranteed to become prime minister.

Crowds gathered to watch the men speak

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