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Japan analyst David Powers
assesses the infleunce of Keizo Obuchi
 real 28k

The BBC's Juliet Hindell
"His common touch marked him out from other Japanese politicians"
 real 28k

Monday, 15 May, 2000, 14:44 GMT 15:44 UK
Row over Obuchi funeral
Nurses bow to Mr Obuchi's hearse
Nurses bow to Mr Obuchi's hearse
Japan's opposition has criticised plans to hold former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi's state funeral shortly before an expected election next month.

Mr Obuchi died on Sunday following a stroke in April.

The announcement that his state funeral will be on 8 June came as condolences poured in from leaders around the world.

Japan has lost a strong and vibrant leader

US President Bill Clinton

But the timing of the funeral drew immediate criticism from the opposition, which accused the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of trying to exploit a sympathy vote in the elections.

Japan is expected to go to the polls on 25 June - Mr Obuchi's birthday.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki dismissed calls for the ceremony to be put off until after elections and said the possibility of a sympathy vote was "never taken into consideration".

He said as many as 5,000 guests, including foreign dignitaries, would be invited to the state funeral.

Keizo Obuchi was known for his common touch

Officials said they wanted to hold the memorial as soon as possible after Emperor Akihito returns to Japan on 1 June from a trip to Europe.

A private funeral for Mr Obuchi will take place on Tuesday at Aoyama Cemetery in central Tokyo.

Mourning

Mr Obuchi, 62, who was replaced last month as prime minister by Yoshiro Mori, died in Tokyo's Juntendo Hospital.

He had been in a coma, kept alive only with the help of an artificial respirator, since his stroke on 2 April.

We have no intention at all of using [the funeral] for election purposes

Mikio Aoki, Cabinet Secretary

Many Japanese observed a minute's silence on Monday in his honour and flags are flying at half mast across the country.

Hundreds of mourners gathered at Mr Obuchi's Tokyo home which has been decorated with white lilies and chains of paper cranes, believed to bring peace.

Economy

Correspondents say Mr Obuchi is remembered fondly by many, despite his lacklustre image.

Much of the press on Monday praised him as the architect of Japan's recovery from the brink of economic collapse.
Mourners queue in the rain to pay their respects
Mourners queue in the rain to pay their respects

Analysts said the LDP was likely to benefit from the outpouring of sympathy caused by the death of its former leader.

The LDP scored one of its biggest-ever victories at the polls in June 1980, 10 days after then-Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira died.

"Obuchi is already being sadly missed, and people are sympathetic," said political analyst Hisayuki Miyake. "This will certainly not hurt the Liberal Democrats in the elections."

Economy

Mr Obuchi became Japan's youngest-ever member of parliament when he was elected in 1963 at the age of 26.

During his premiership, which began in July 1998, he worked hard to improve Japan's profile overseas and made revitalising the economy his top priority.

He was known for his common touch and was skilled at networking.

But he hardly took any rest and his hectic schedule may have contributed to his sudden demise.

At the time of his stroke Mr Obuchi was struggling to maintain the ruling coalition he had put together as well as dealing with the Mount Usu volcano emergency in northern Japan.

Reports say Mr Obuchi's 26-year-old daughter, Yuko, is widely expected to run for election in the Gunma district north of Tokyo, where her father won successively for more than 30 years.

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See also:

14 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Obituary: Keizo Obuchi
14 May 00 | Business
Obuchi's economic legacy
09 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan fixes election date
05 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
New Japanese PM chosen
05 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Profile: Yoshiro Mori
04 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan's workaholic culture
04 Apr 00 | Media reports
Media spotlight on Obuchi's illness
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