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Friday, 23 November, 2001, 14:31 GMT
Japan awaits royal birth
TV crewmen and photographers outside the Imperial Palace
There is intense public interest in the imperial family
Japan's Crown Princess Masako is preparing to enter hospital for the birth of her baby according to Japanese media reports.

Palace spokesmen refused to confirm the reports, carried by Kyodo news agency and the state-run NHK television network.

The birth of a boy, he will provide an heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne. If the baby is a girl the law will not allow her to succeed her father, Crown Prince Naruhito.

The ruling Liberal Demoratic Party has said it has no plans to change the law but the birth of a girl is likely to bring to a head a national debate over the rules of succession.

No male child has ben born to the Imperial family since 1965 when Prince Naruhito's younger brother, Prince Akishino, was born. Both of Prince Akishino's children are girls

The child will be the royal couple's first in eight years of marriage.

There is intense interest among the Japanese public in the imperial family but media coverage has been restrained after the miscarriage of Princess Masako's previous pregnancy in December 1999 was blamed on stress created by their frenzied coverage.

See also:

15 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japanese empress not on the cards
10 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Ancient birth ritual for Japanese princess
09 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan considers female succession
09 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan's female emperors
15 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan crown princess pregnant
31 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
Japanese princess suffers miscarriage
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