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The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is not planning to raise the age of eligibility for the public to start receiving pensions in its reform of the pension system for 2004, ministry sources said Saturday.

However, the welfare ministry’s stance runs counter to a call from the Finance Ministry that the pensionable age should be raised to 67 from the current 65 in fiscal 2025 or after.

Facing an aging society and falling birthrate, the government has already decided to gradually put back the age of eligibility for pensions to 65 from 60 in previous reforms. Men who were born on April 2, 1961, or after and women born on April 2, 1966, or after cannot receive pensions until they reach 65.

But Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi instructed welfare minister Chikara Sakaguchi to review pension payment eligibility again when the ministry drafts a plan for 2004 reforms.

Ministry officials oppose a further hike in the age for fear it may deepen distrust in the nation’s public pension schemes, the sources said.

Sakaguchi also opposes the increase, as he said recently that it would be difficult to introduce unless steps are taken to promote re-employment of people in their 60s. Ninety percent of Japanese firms having a mandatory retirement age of 60.

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