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Japan PM dismisses 'lame-duck' charge

Japan's embattled Prime Minister Taro Aso dismissed opposition charges that his "lame-duck" leadership on the world stage was damaging the country's interests.

world Updated: Feb 26, 2009 11:27 IST

Japan's embattled Prime Minister Taro Aso on Thursday dismissed opposition charges that his "lame-duck" leadership on the world stage was damaging the country's interests.

"It's rude to say this but I feel discomfort over the lame-duck prime minister's engagement in top-level diplomacy," Seiji Maehara, a senior official of the main opposition Democratic Party, said in parliament.

"I believe this is hurting our national interest. Is the prime minister aware of this?" he asked Aso, who flew back from Washington on Wednesday after a brief talk with President Barack Obama as the first foreign White House guest.

Aso denied the charge, saying: "It is natural that a legitimately elected prime minister engages in negotiations with other countries by representing the national interest."

The lack of a joint press conference or official lunch during the Washington summit prompted Japanese media to speculate that Obama is not investing much time in an Aso administration whose days could be numbered.

Speaking in parliament, Aso rejected the opposition's demand for snap lower house elections.

"It is up to me when to dissolve the house," Aso said, without elaborating.

General elections must be held by September and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party faces the prospect of losing its half century grip on power.

The Aso cabinet's approval ratings have slumped into single digits according to one recent poll, less than one quarter of the support he had when he took office five months ago.

Aso apparently hopes to boost his popularity with his overseas trips. Last week he became the first Japanese premier to visit Russia's Sakhalin Island since World War II, meeting President Dmitry Medvedev.

But Japanese voters appeared to be more concerned about the country's crumbling economy.

Aso said he had discussed North Korea's possible launch of a missile with Obama.

"I don't know what benefits they (North Korea) would get by increasing tensions but we agreed for Japan and the United States to keep in close contact over this issue," he said.

North Korea said Tuesday that it was preparing to launch a satellite, a move that the United States and its allies believe could actually be a long range missile test.