• Kyodo


British leader Tony Blair on Wednesday urged Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to press on with structural reforms of the Japanese economy despite domestic opposition, a Japanese government official said.

In bilateral talks in Kananaskis, Alberta, Blair told Koizumi he will probably face difficulties and the situation may lead to a plunge in his approval ratings.

Blair added, however, that he has heard Koizumi’s reform efforts are moving forward and urged him to continue firmly with his plans, according to the official.

Koizumi said he will not change his structural reform program even if his approval rating falls still further. Support for the Koizumi Cabinet, which hovered around 80 percent for nine months following its launch, virtually halved after he sacked the popular Makiko Tanaka as foreign minister in late January.

Koizumi paid respect to Blair’s role in the global fight against terrorism in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, saying watching him has taught him the importance of diplomatic efforts and international cooperation.

On African issues, a highlight of this year’s summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations, Blair emphasized the importance of providing debt relief to highly indebted poor countries, the official said.

Koizumi said he announced last week that Japan will consider taking measures to give duty-free, quota-free treatment to imports from least developed countries starting in fiscal 2003.

The two leaders agreed on the importance of offering effective assistance so that highly indebted nations can play an active role in improving their situations, the official said.

Blair thanked Japan for supplying fuel to British warships operating in the Indian Ocean as part of Tokyo’s logistic support to the U.S.-led military operation in Afghanistan.

The Japanese leader said there have been no major international terrorist acts thanks to the military operations conducted mainly by the United States and Britain, the official said.

While Japan cannot take direct part in the military campaign due to constitutional constraints, it will contribute in other areas, including helping to reconstruct Afghanistan, Koizumi was quoted as telling Blair.

Koizumi also invited Britain to take part in the 2005 World Exposition in Aichi Prefecture, but Blair did not give a specific response, the official said.

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