Japan’s PM shakes up cabinet amid outcry over party’s ties to Unification Church


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TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reshuffled his cabinet on Wednesday, removing some ministers linked to the Unification Church to reverse a plunge in public support triggered by the ruling party’s ties to the controversial group.

Kishida, in office since last October, announced his new government team in a reshuffle that came earlier than analysts expected.

While key figures like Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Finance Chief Shunichi Suzuki have retained their posts, some high-level ministers have been removed, including Nobuo Kishi, the former prime minister’s younger brother. Shinzo Abe. Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda also quit, who instead took a leadership position in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

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In the month since Abe’s assassination, the spotlight has been shone on the LDP’s longstanding ties to the Unification Church, with polls showing declining approval ratings for Kishida and the respondents citing the need to know how close those ties might be.

“It’s basically about damage control,” said political commentator Atsuo Ito. “What people are really looking at is the Unification Church.”

Abe’s alleged killer said his mother was a bankrupt Unification Church member by donating to him, and accused Abe of promoting it.

In the latest survey, support for Kishida had fallen to 46% from 59% just three weeks ago, public broadcaster NHK said on Monday, the lowest mark since he became prime minister.

The religious group itself is expected to hold a rare press conference with foreign media on Wednesday evening.

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Hagiuda, the trade minister, became the head of the LDP’s political research council, a high post in the party. The appointment is seen as an attempt to appease members of the Abe faction, the party’s largest faction, although Hagiuda has publicly admitted to attending an event organized by a group linked to the Unification Church.

Analysts said their impression was that Kishida had tried to maintain balance within the faction-dominated party by choosing a roughly equal number of ministers from different groups.

But commentator Joji Harano thought Kishida may have done the reshuffle too quickly, trying to please everyone.

“I think maybe he could have done better to show his own direction and make the line-up fresher,” he added. (Reporting by Elaine Lies, Yoshifumi Takenmoto, Sakura Murakami and Tetsushi Kajimoto; Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by David Dolan and Kenneth Maxwell)

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