• Compiled From Kyodo, Staff Reports

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Hiromu Nonaka, an influential member of the Liberal Democratic Party, expressed his intention Tuesday to retire from politics.

Nonaka, 77, told a hastily arranged news conference at the party’s headquarters in Tokyo that he will not run in the next general election of the House of Representatives.

He is a former LDP secretary general and a senior member of the party’s largest faction, led by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto.

“I would like to devote all of my remaining energy to the struggle to throw out the administration of (Prime Minister Junichiro) Koizumi by cutting my escape routes,” Nonaka said, expressing his determination to do his utmost to help Takao Fujii, a Hashimoto faction member running against Koizumi for the LDP presidency.

Campaigning for the Sept. 20 election officially kicked off Monday.

In addition to Fujii, a former transport minister, former LDP policy chief Shizuka Kamei and former Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura are challenging Koizumi and his reform agenda.

Regarding the presidential race, Nonaka harshly criticized Mikio Aoki, a senior Hashimoto faction member who heads the LDP caucus in the Upper House, and Kanezo Muraoka, a veteran Hashimoto faction member who once held the post of Chief Cabinet Secretary.

The two have expressed their support for Koizumi in the election, exposing a rift in the faction.

“I cannot forgive them for their acts as politicians,” Nonaka said, stressing that the Hashimoto faction had agreed to support Fujii as a candidate.

Although faction elders approved Fujii’s plan to run last week, he was not the faction’s official candidate and is not expected to receive backing from all of the group’s 100 members.

During the Sept. 2 meeting of faction executives, they only confirmed in a written agreement they will “warmly send” Fujii into the race.

Nonaka emphasized that Japan is standing at a crossroads, and national leaders have to take bold steps.

“The ongoing presidential election will determine the future course of Japan . . . whether it will survive or die,” Nonaka said.

Nonaka’s announcement sent shock waves through Nagata-cho.

Asked about the impact of the retirement of his reform drive’s No. 1 foe, Koizumi avoided direct comment, in an apparent bid not to stimulate anti-Koizumi forces within his party.

“It’s OK that there are lots of people with different opinions,” he said.

Lawmakers supporting Fujii, however, were apparently shocked by the news, because Nonaka is one of the most powerful lawmakers among Koizumi’s dissenters within the LDP.

“When I received a phone call from Nonaka, I asked him not to retire,” said a Diet member at the Fujii election campaign office in LDP headquarters. “But he said he is determined to back (Fujii) by cutting off (Nonaka’s) own retreat.”

Takashi Sasagawa, a Lower House member who heads Fujii’s campaign team, tried to brush aside Nonaka’s announcement.

“He won’t disappear in a matter of one or two days. He will stay until the next election, which could be a dual election (of the Lower and Upper Houses) next summer,” he said.

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