Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi plans to reshuffle his Cabinet before he leaves for Europe on Jan. 6, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka said Thursday.

Although Nonaka did not specify a date for the reshuffle, it is widely believed it will take place either Jan. 5 or in the morning of Jan. 6. The prime minister leaves Tokyo that afternoon.

“The prime minister is hoping to form the new Cabinet before he leaves for Europe, because he believes it would give new Cabinet members more time to prepare for the upcoming ordinary Diet session. Based on that idea, he is currently studying the date,” the government’s chief spokesman told a regular news conference. The next ordinary Diet session is to convene Jan. 19.

Nonaka also confirmed that Obuchi will hold another meeting with Liberal Party leader Ichiro Ozawa next Monday to discuss details of the Cabinet reshuffle.

At that meeting, the prime minister hopes to make a final decision on whether Ozawa will join the new Cabinet, Nonaka added. While Ozawa has so far declined Obuchi’s offer to join the Cabinet, speculation is mounting that he will eventually agree to take a ministerial post.

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