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Japan passes 4 trillion yen disaster relief budget

by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) May 2, 2011
Japan's parliament on Monday passed an emergency 4 trillion yen ($49 billion) relief budget to help fund reconstruction after the deadly March 11 earthquake and tsunami devastated northeastern regions.

Ruling and opposition lawmakers put aside their differences in an effort to launch efforts to rebuild the country's quake-hit northeast as quickly as possible.

But analysts warned the passing of the budget will not ease pressure on under-fire Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who has faced criticism over the government's handling of the crisis and the subsequent nuclear emergency.

The extra budget, which totals 4.015 trillion yen, will cover restoration work such as clearing massive amounts of rubble and building temporary housing for the thousands of people who lost their homes.

The 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11 left nearly 26,000 dead or missing and crippled a nuclear power plant, which has been releasing radioactive materials into the environment.

The nuclear accident and the natural disaster have forced the evacuation of more than 150,000 people from their homes.

The government will not issue fresh bonds for the extra budget but plans to divert some funds originally aimed at supporting pensions and child allowances, while also slashing plans to cancel highway tolls.

Kan plans to submit a "sizeable" second extra budget later to be financed by a government bond issue.

But the prospect of more deficit-spending has placed higher international scrutiny on the second extra budget, as such steps would further worsen Japan's battered finances, amid calls for higher taxes to pay for relief measures.

Japan has struggled to whittle down a public debt mountain at around 200 percent of GDP, the highest level among industrialised nations.

Last week ratings agency Standard & Poor's cut its outlook on Japan's sovereign debt following the quake-tsunami disaster, citing the risk of a downgrade if Japan's fiscal situation deteriorates more than expected.

It also warned that reconstruction costs could pass $600 billion. The top end of the government's estimate of direct damage from the earthquake and the tsunami is at around $300 billion.

Before the quake, differences between opposition and ruling parties delayed the passage of the regular budget for the fiscal year that started in April and prevented the enactment of crucial funding measures yet to clear parliament.

Japan's unpopular Prime Minister on Sunday pleaded for public "understanding" after a poll showed three-quarters of people questioned his leadership and handling of the crisis.

In a weekend telephone survey by Kyodo news agency, 76 percent of 1,010 respondents believed Kan was "not exercising leadership" in dealing with the March 11 quake and tsunami and the ensuing crisis at a nuclear power plant.

A senior nuclear adviser to Kan submitted his resignation Friday, and in a tearful press conference said the government had ignored his advice and failed to follow the law.

Toshiso Kosako, a Tokyo University professor who was named in March as an adviser to Kan, said the government had only taken ad hoc measures to contain the crisis at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant.

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Japan PM on defensive over disaster leadership
Tokyo (AFP) May 1, 2011
Japan's unpopular Prime Minister Naoto Kan pleaded for public "understanding" Sunday after a poll showed three-quarters of people questioned his leadership and handling of the post-disaster crisis. In a weekend telephone survey by Kyodo news agency, 76 percent of 1,010 respondents believed Kan was "not exercising leadership" in dealing with the March 11 quake and tsunami and the ensuing cris ... read more

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