Japan Econ Min Ota fears delay in policy debate

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TOKYO, Sep 14 (Reuters) Japanese Economics Minister Hiroko Ota expressed concerns about a possible delay in the economic policy debate after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe abruptly decided to resign earlier this week.

''It is like there is a vacuum in the (political and policy debate) schedules as well as in my heart,'' Ota told a news conference on Friday.

''I am worried,'' she said when asked about such a holdup. The government aims to flesh out policy steps by the end of this year including steps to help regional economies and proposals for its budget for the next fiscal year.

''Until I pass the baton, I need to keep running,'' Ota said.

The government's top economic panel, the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy (CEFP), for which Ota is the spokeswoman, cancelled a meeting this week after Abe's resignation.

There is no plan yet on when it meets next.

''The steps in the policy guidelines (compiled by the CEFP) are indispensable for the Japanese economy,'' she said, calling for a smooth implementation once a new prime minister and cabinet is chosen.

Abe said on Wednesday that he was quitting over a stalemate in parliament, but officials said health problems were also a factor. He was admitted to hospital on Thursday for a gastrointestinal disorder as well as stress and exhaustion.

Cabinet ministers held a meeting without Abe on Friday, and any issues that need to be approved by the prime minister will be brought to him later.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Kaoru Yosano also emphasised the need for policy continuity on Friday.

''Although there will be some minor changes in views, the overall direction for pushing ahead with reform should not change in order to pass on Japan's prosperity to our children and grandchildren,'' Yosano told a news conference.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party will hold a leadership poll on Sept. 23 to pick Abe's successor, who must then form a new cabinet before parliamentary debate can restart.

Speaking at a separate news conference, Finance Minister Fukushiro Nukaga said: ''I would like to make steady efforts to compile the budget as the finance minister in the Abe cabinet.'' He was responding to a question on speculation that a policy vacuum would make it difficult for the Ministry of Finance to compile a draft budget by late December, as it normally does.

Reuters SZ VP0735

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