New PM pledges at May Day rally to overhaul Japan

Agence France-Press, Saturday 28 April 2001, 3:50 PM

TOKYO, April 28 (AFP)—New Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi vowed at a May Day rally Saturday to overhaul the spluttering Japanese economy after a decade of policy paralysis.

Koizumi was the first Japanese prime minister to address a May Day gathering in five years, with about 450,000 workers holding rallies nationwide demanding higher wages and secure employment.

The reform-minded Koizumi, who has promised structural reforms which could lead to higher unemployment, pledged to do what it took to drag the world's second-biggest economy back to health.

The most important mission of my government is to secure the greatest happiness of the greatest number and to create a system where people can support each other for the creation of a better Japan, he told a 100,000-strong crowd in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park.

I want you to understand that my presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and my premiership ... mean significant change in the government, he said.

Some of those attending the Tokyo rally welcomed the comments by Koizumi, who took office on Thursday to replace the deeply unpopular Yoshiro Mori.

He was so high-spirited. He is much better than Mori, a 30-year-old woman said.

A 23-year-old male office worker said: He was speaking in his own words. I felt he was on our side.

But the eight million-strong Japanese Trade Union Confederation said no significant change could be expected under the LDP, which has ruled Japan almost uninterrupted for nearly five decades.

No matter what Koizumi says, nothing will change under the current LDP-led coalition government, confederation chairman Etsuya Washio told the rally.

We should create a political system that represents the voice of workers, he said.

Takako Doi, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party, dismissed the new prime minister's appearance at the rally.

Koizumi's attendance here was a mere performance, she said.

We cannot expect any change from him because he is part of the LDP-led coalition government, Doi said.

The LDP, which lacks a majority in the upper house of parliament, is in a three-way coalition with the New Conservative Party and the Buddhist-backed New Komeito party.

Following the rally, workers took to the streets of downtown Tokyo with banners reading: Economic Recovery! and Protect our employment and life!

The trade union confederation organized the nationwide May Day rallies and gave the figures for those attending.

On Friday, the government announced Japan's jobless rate stood at 4.7 percent in March with 3.43 million people out of work. Japan recorded a post-war jobless high of 4.9 percent in January.