Japan PM on media offensive as voter support dives

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TOKYO, July 6 (Reuters) Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has launched a media offensive to win back foundering voter support, which has slid below the key 30 per cent level ahead of an upper house election this month.

After a television appearance yesterday, Abe is tackling two more TV shows and a radio programme today in an attempt to woo voters and soothe anger over the government's bungling of millions of pension records -- the most contentious issue in the July 29 election.

''It's true that the wind is blowing against us at the moment,'' Abe said today when asked if his ruling Liberal Democratic Party could win.

''But they say that a plane cannot fly high without an opposing wind. We are training against that opposing wind and want to do our very best,'' he added on the TV show, which mixes showbiz gossip with news.

Abe said yesterday that his ruling coalition faced a tough fight in the election, but refused to consider defeat before the battle had even begun.

His woes were exacerbated last weekend, when his defence minister made remarks that appeared to condone the 1945 atomic bombings of two Japanese cities, sparking public outrage.

Abe refused to sack him but the minister quit on Tuesday -- the second resignation from the nine-month-old cabinet, and less than two months after the scandal-tainted farm minister hanged himself.

A group of atomic bomb survivors demanded today that Abe apologise for appointing Fumio Kyuma to the top defence post and urged the government to seek an apology from the United States for the bombings.

A public opinion survey published yesterday by the Yomiuri Shimbun showed that only 32.0 per cent of voters supported the Abe cabinet, down 2.4 percent from last week's poll.

The paper said the defence minister's resignation, coupled with the pension fiasco -- which could mean that some retirees are short-changed -- had dented Abe's support.

Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, the New Komeito party, need to win a total of 64 of the 121 seats up for grabs to keep their majority in the 242-seat upper chamber.

New Komeito is aiming to get 13 seats.

A loss in the upper house would not eject the ruling camp from government, since it retains a huge majority in the more powerful lower chamber.

But a big loss would mean the ruling bloc could not enact legislation, which must be approved by both houses of parliament, threatening political paralysis that could trigger calls for Abe to quit or even call a snap lower house election.

No general election needs be held until 2009.


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